Not in my humble opinion.
I just read about this idea proposed by health financing researchers out of MIT and Harvard: Financing health care with consumer loans.
They begin their article with what we all know—health care, specifically prescription drugs in this case, costs too much.
We propose a practical way to increase drug affordability through health care loans (HCLs)—the equivalent of mortgages for large health care expenses. HCLs allow patients in both multipayer and single-payer markets to access a broader set of therapeutics, including expensive short-duration treatments that are curative.
When they talk about “curative” drug treatments, they are referring to the new and wildly expensive drugs to treat hepatitis C (HCV), cancer, and a few rare diseases.
Harvoni (sofosbuvir/ledipasvir), the popular drug for treating HCV, for example, can cost well over $100,000 for a course of treatment.
Related post: High prescription drug costs will be unsustainable
That’s actually a bargain compared to Glybera (alipogene tiparvovec), which treats the rare disease lipoprotein lipase deficiency. Glybera’s price tag? One million dollars.
And there are plenty of other drugs that fall between those two price points.
The authors argue that these health care loans would be less costly to patients than using credit cards or payday loans, which carry huge interest rates.
That’s probably true. But they also admit that the patients most likely to take advantage of these loans would be those that are already poor credit risks: the unemployed and the under employed that don’t have health insurance benefits to limit their out-of-pocket costs.
If these HCLs are to work like mortgages, the interest rates would have to be high enough to offset the high risk the lenders would be taking on. So even though the patients could benefit from getting treatment with the high-cost drugs right away, they would be paying off that debt for a long, long time—possibly the rest of their lives.
To me a health care loan just seems like a more structured way to go into medical debt.
Related post: The “financial toxicity”of cancer
Do we really need more ways to go into debt in this country? Remember the subprime mortgage crisis that stemmed from lending money to homeowners with poor credit? Or the current student loan crisis? Or the ongoing problem with credit card debt?
And who or what will help patients paying for high-cost treatments that are not curative, but rather ongoing to improve quality of life? Patients with multiple sclerosis, cystic fibrosis, rheumatoid arthritis, or a number of other chronic diseases that are treated with incredibly expensive drugs.
That these researchers are even suggesting health care loans are necessary just underscores how broken and unfair our health care system is.
There are, of course, complex ethical considerations and social ramifications related to the pricing of highly effective therapies above a threshold that permits universal access.
In other words, the best treatments go to those who can pay.
Moreover, there is growing pushback against the rising cost of prescription drugs from the medical community and policy-makers. It has also been argued that because infectious diseases such as HCV impose a public health risk, governments should cover the cost of eradicating such diseases. We do not address these important issues or the cost-effectiveness of individual drugs in this article. Our more modest goal is to explore the feasibility of a private-sector approach to making expensive and highly efficacious therapies more affordable right now. The stark reality is that many patients do not have access to transformative therapies solely because of affordability.
Related post: Will Congress fight the high cost of prescription drugs?
The article is long, and I’m no economist or loan expert. So if you want more details on how these health care loans would work (in theory), please follow this link.
My takeaway from reading it, however, is that health care loans would only be another band-aid, and the only ones to really benefit would be the pharmaceutical companies.
No surprise, then, that the authors all disclosed financial ties to Big Pharma.