Skip to main content
Premium Trial:

Request an Annual Quote

Cheaper Sequencing, Higher Costs?

The plummeting cost of genome sequencing may likely spur a jump in healthcare spending, Forbes contributor Peter Ubel says, and he thinks that maybe something ought to be done about that.

Cheaper sequencing means more people will get sequenced and will find out more information about more mutations and disease risks that they have and they'll gobble up more tests and more expensive, targeted treatments, he says. Maybe the number of people taking these tests should be limited, or the price of treatments for people with rare mutations should be kept in check, he wonders.

It’s a lot like what happened with gallbladder treatments when laparoscopic procedures came along. A far less invasive way to remove gallbladders that seemingly would cut costs by reducing hospital stays, the laparoscopic treatment actually failed to lower costs because the number of gallbladder surgeries rose by 20 percent, Ubel says.

Something like that is likely to happen with genomic testing, Ubel says, because the sequencing marks the beginning for "a treatment cascade" for many people who find out about their disease risks and will demand more tests.

Ubel thinks the argument that genomic medicine will reduce costs may not be fully thought out. Even though testing for response to chemotherapy might "theoretically save money," there is no guarantee that doctors will withhold treatments from patients based on the tests. There also is the possibility that new drugs will have to target a shrinking number of patients, and drug trials for rarer diseases are not any cheaper than those for ones with large target groups, he adds.

"To fully realize the promise of less expensive genomic testing, we may need to take measures to limit the number of people receiving such tests or the price of interventions targeted to people with uncommon mutations," Ubel writes.