Cost of Vital Cancer Drugs Skyrocketing Out of Control

Outrage over cancer drugs that save lives are bankrupting more and more people.
3:00 | 12/18/13

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Transcript for Cost of Vital Cancer Drugs Skyrocketing Out of Control
Robitussin nighttime. Don't suffer the coughequences. Next here tonight, fighting chance, new drugs are saving lives for cancer patients, but the cost of the drugs is spiraling out of control. So a question, is it fair that the rich can afford them and so many other people cannot? A cancer diagnosis doubles your likelihood of going bankrupt. Abc's chief medical editor dr. Richard besser investigates an outrage in america. Reporter: If her pill bottle goes empty, patsy thompson fears she will die. About seven weeks worth. Reporter: As a 65 year old working mother of seven adopted children, she's fighting leukemia, now in remission, but this drug, sprycel, is keeping her alive. Only it costs at least $106,000 a year. Even with medicare payments, it would cost her about $10,000 a year out of pocket. She can't afford it and she's not alone. It just all seems so unfair. Reporter: Cancer drug prices have doubled in the past decade, eleven of the past 12 drugs the fda approved for fighting cancer in 2012 were priced over $100,000 a year. That's double the average family income. Did you ever think that at this point in your life you'd be facing this kind of medical crisis? No. Reporter: Thousands of cancer patients, even many with insurance, face the same dire decision, go bankrupt or die. Are we reaching a point where only the rich survive? Patients who cannot afford the drugs are forgoing the treatment and dying. Reporter: Dr. Hagop kant arjian is leading a protest by more th 100 cancer specialists, demanding pharmaceutical companies lower their drug prices. Pharmaceutical companies say it costs on average more than one billion dollars to research a new drug. But critics put the cost below $90 million. The pharmaceutical industry is the second most profitable industry in the united states after the oil and gas industry. Reporter: In the u.S. Sprycel, and top tier cancer drugs like it cost twice as much a it does in parts of europe, china, canada, and the u.K. Places where the government set a limit on pricing. Bristol-myers squibb produces patsy's medication. As the cost of the pills more than doubled since 2007, the CEOs EARN TENS OF MILLIONS OF Dollars. Is it ethical what they're charging for these drugs? I don't know that you need a gazillion dollars worth of profit. Reporter: Bristol myers squib said in a statement to abc news. "We take great care to price our medicines based on the cost to develop them. For sprycel, we have robust patient assistance programs in place. Still, one in five cancer patients can't afford their medication, patsy among them; she applied to that "reimbursment support program." She was denied. Down to 30 pills and little hope. If you take this bottle away? I won't be here. Reporter: These are game changing drugs. They're not expensive drugs that just give you a few months of life. They turn cancer into a low grade disease you can live with for decades. Is there help on the way for patsy? We're in touch with the company. We're in contact with her doctors and we will continue to try to help. For everyone they have to hope that the pressure from the cancer doctors makes the companies do the right thing and lower the prices. Thanks, rich, for investigating tonight. And when we come back, it is

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