Experiment cuts cancer costs, ups drug spend

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An experiment in limiting cancer-care costs is being considered a half-win. The Wall Street Journal reports that a study by health insurer UnitedHealthcare showed that while the insurer was able to lower the overall cost of cancer care by about 33%, drug costs during the three-year study more than doubled.

The study worked by modifying physician incentives. The Journal explains that the typical payment scenario is one in which doctors are reimbursed a percentage of the price of the medications used, which could prompt doctors to use higher-priced treatments. The study changed things up by paying doctors a set amount for each drug regimen instead of tying the rate to the price of individual medications.

A medical director whose center was part of the study is not sure just why the total cost dropped and tells the Journal that the study may have altered how it handled hospitalizations, or that oncologists in the study may have used drugs for longer periods of time than oncologists who were not part of the study.

Lead researcher Lee Newcomer tells the Journal he was surprised that the drug costs went up, but that the study was a success because the lower overall cost did not have an adverse effect on patient outcomes.

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