SUBSIDIES for high-cost cancer drugs are growing faster than for other medicines, an analysis shows.
Chemotherapy costs rose from $84 million in 2009-10 to $586 million last financial year, a parliamentary paper shows.
An annual 63 per cent growth in the cost far exceeded that of other medicines, including for complex HIV/AIDS and hepatitis.
The analysis found spending on drugs to combat high-blood pressure, diabetes, asthma and depression was slowing.
The subsidy program cost $9.1 billion last financial year, with an average annual rise of 5 per cent for a decade.
The Grattan Institute’s Stephen Duckett said the rise was the result of a trend to niche medicines.
“They might target a particular genome, and the cost of developing a drug is often as high. You are spreading the development cost over a smaller number of drugs,” he said.
Professor Duckett said the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme was designed to share the cost of drugs across the population and “not make the poor people with cancer pay for them”.
But he said there should be greater effort to ensure high-cost drugs were prescribed carefully.
“Often there are a huge claims about a drug and doctors apply it to people who may benefit. We’ve got to be tight about how we use them,” he said.
The analysis comes as a Senate committee prepares to examine access to new cancer drugs, amid warnings some patients can’t receive the best treatments due to delays having them PBS listed.
Many new cancer drugs are on the way and some oncologists say the subsidy system is too slow and inflexible to cope.
Oncologist John Zalcberg said Australians were missing out on new treatments due to delays in having them listed.