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Medicare and the Promise of Personalized Medicine

In the long run, personalized medicine may cut costs by eliminating inefficiencies, but getting there will take hefty upfront investment and that may be too much for a program like Medicare, the San Diego Union Tribune reports.

"The practical question for Medicare is dealing with the short-term costs when the savings may not be realized for years," says Patricia Neuman, the Medicare policy director at the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

However, Edward Abrahams, president of the Personalized Medicine Coalition, notes that tests like Oncotype Dx can predict whether a patient's cancer is likely to recur after initial treatment, enabling some patients to forgo unnecessary treatment. In that way, even with Oncotype Dx's $4,000 price tag per test, there would be savings in avoiding unneeded follow-up treatment.

Better, and better targeted, therapies could also keep Medicare patients out of hospitals, where bills are generally run up, adds Dana Goldman, the director of the Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics at the University of Southern California.

Goldman notes, though, that cost shouldn't be the only consideration. "If the goal was just to save Medicare money, then you should give everyone cigarettes," he says. "The whole point of personalized medicine is that we can keep people alive longer and in a better functional state. That has enormous benefits to society."