Korean insurance policies are lagging behind the development of anticancer therapies, leaving many novel drugs without coverage and creating a population of "medical poor" citizens, according to Dr Lee Dae-ho, head of the planning committee of the Korean Association for Clinical Oncology (KACO).
The US Food and Drug Administration has been approving novel immunotherapies at a faster rate than ever before, whereas the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS) has failed to keep up, reported Korea Biomedical Review citiing Dr Lee.
Korean health authorities approve a new drug around three years after the US FDA does so, according to data he compiled. After the approval, it takes about 320 days for the same drug to be reimbursed, which is two months longer than other OECD countries. He pointed out that no medications approved by the MFDS last year had gained insurance coverage yet.
Until the authorities reimburse cancer therapies, patients must pay a hefty sum out-of-pocket for potentially life-saving treatments. In some cases, cancer patients are not even allowed to use FDA-approved drugs with their own money if it is not approved by the health authorities.
These patients have come to be known as the “medical poor”. The term, popularised by the KACO, refers to individuals who spend a significant proportion of his or her total income on medical fees, leaving little left for other expenses.
To solve the problem, it is necessary to actively review alternatives and focus on shortening the period of approval and reimbursement, while increasing funds used to cover cancer therapies, Dr Lee said.