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A new study from Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center has found a huge price discrepancy between cancer care in Western Washington and the neighboring province of British Columbia, Canada.

Despite overwhelming similarities between the two regions and no difference in survival rates, systemic treatment for colorectal cancer in the U.S. costs double what it costs in Canada — $12,345 per month and $6,195 per month, respectively.

The study analyzed data from more than 1,622 patients in Canada — which has a fully subsidized, single-payer health system — and 575 patients in the U.S., some of whom have government-sponsored health insurance and some of whom have private insurance.

It may be the first study to directly compare the cost of treating the same disease in two demographically similar groups on either side of the border, although the high cost of healthcare in the U.S. compared to its Northern neighbor is widely documented. The study was conducted by Fred Hutch’s economic group, the Hutchinson Institute for Cancer Outcomes Research (HICOR), and the results were presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago.

Veena Shankaran HICOR at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Taken March 25, 2016.

Veena Shankaran, who led the study, told GeekWire in an email interview that this initial research focuses on cancer drugs as opposed to other forms of treatment.

“Because we focused solely on systemic cancer drugs (chemotherapy and targeted therapy), we believe the difference in costs in this study represents discrepancies in drug pricing between our countries,” Shankaran said. “Our next steps will be to look at costs and utilization of other services such as surgery, radiology, hospital/ER, tumor markers, and the like.”

She also said the national conversation about healthcare costs made the study particularly poignant. The United States spends far more than other developed countries on healthcare and many Americans remain uninsured or have high deductible health insurance that leaves them in mounds of medical debt in the case of a serious illness.

The healthcare industry has swelled to almost one-fifth of the country’s GDP — growth that those inside and outside the industry say is a real concern.

“With an increasing discourse about the rising costs of healthcare in the U.S., it’s also good timing to consider the quality and cost of care received in other developed countries, with different models of care,” Shankaran said.

High drug prices have become a talking point for President Donald Trump, who announced an ambitious plan to lower drug prices last month. The response so far has been mixed and many details on the plan have yet to be filled in.

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