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Variable Transparency of Industry-Sponsored Oncology Financial Assistance Programs

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Key Points

  • Information on patent assistance programs is not consistently available from pharmaceutical manufacturers.
  • A total of 35% of free drug programs and 53% of copayment assistance programs did not provide details regarding the determination of financial need.

A “secret shopper” study reported by Zafar et al in the Journal of Oncology Practice found that transparency of industry-sponsored oncology patient assistance programs varied among programs.

Study Details

The study involved accessing pharmaceutical manufacturer–sponsored patient assistance program websites and using program telephone hotlines to ascertain program details from the perspective of a patient or caregiver between March and May 2014. A total of 24 manufacturers with programs were identified, covering 87% of approved oncology drugs; among them, 23 free drug programs and 15 copayment assistance programs were identified from websites, and 14 copayment assistance programs were identified from hotlines.

Information Availability

Among the 23 free drug programs, 15 (65%) had partial information regarding eligibility and income documentation requirements accessible on websites and hotlines, 1 had information available only via website, and 5 had information available only via hotline. For copayment assistance programs, 10 of 24 (42%) had partial information accessible on websites and hotlines, and 5 had information available only on websites.

Annual individual or household income was identified as an important eligibility criterion by free drug programs, but only 39% of such programs disclosed income thresholds. Among them, the average maximum annual income was $86,279 for patients applying to the programs (range = $51,183–$150,000). One-third of the copayment assistance programs provided a maximum household income, with the average maximum annual income for eligibility being $104,790 (range = $98,150–$125,000). Overall, 35% of free drug programs and 53% of copayment assistance programs did not provide details regarding the determination of financial need. No programs shared details on patient usage statistics.

The investigators concluded: “Variation exists in the quality and quantity of data available to patients seeking financial assistance for cancer treatment via manufacturer Web sites and hotlines. Greater transparency among patient assistance programs would enhance utility for patients and help to determine the net impact on costs and adherence.”

S. Yousuf Zafar, MD, of Duke Cancer Institute, is the corresponding author of the Journal of Oncology Practice article.

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.


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