Are Some Cancer Doctors Immorally Pocketing Money from Patients?

medical money
Science & Medicine

More than a handful of doctor have been caught in the act of needlessly giving out or overcharging for cancer drugs to make a quick buck. It seems that some doctors are either intentionally or wrongfully diagnosing sickness, or are immorally pocketing cash from treatment costs.

As the New York Times has pointed out:

“Among cancer doctors, it is called the chemotherapy concession. At a time when overall spending on prescription drugs is soaring, cancer specialists are pocketing hundreds of millions of dollars each year by selling drugs to patients — a practice that almost no other doctors follow.”

Unlike other healthcare professionals, oncologists (cancer doctors) purchase chemotherapy drugs themselves, which are often discounted by drug makers. This can lead to doctors administering drugs at an inflated cost to the patient, since the doctor receives the drugs at a discount. It’s called chemotherapy concession, where “financial incentives exist for some US oncologists in the prescribing of chemotherapy and growth factors for treatment-related anemia.” And many want an end to it.

In fact, the General Accounting Office discovered that doctors, on average, were able to get discounts as high as 86% on some drugs. Critics noted that this kind of activity is contributing to the nation’s high health care bills.

Let’s remember: healthcare should not be treated like a business deal, especially when it’s harming citizens.

”We think it’s a bad system that creates bad incentives that creates bad medicine,” said Robert M. Hayes, president of the Medicare Rights Center, a consumer group, who testified before Congress in 2002 on the issue.

As reported by the New York Times:

“The concession may also lead some doctors to recommend chemotherapy when patients may not benefit. In a 2001 study of cancer patients in Massachusetts, conducted by a team of researchers led by Dr. Ezekiel J. Emanuel of the National Institutes of Health, the authors found that a third of those patients received chemotherapy in the last six months of their lives, even when their cancers were considered unresponsive to chemotherapy. Those findings strongly suggested overuse of chemotherapy at the end of life.

‘We know there is not all appropriate use,’ said Dr. John Gillespie, medical director of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Western New York.”

In a more extreme case of medical fraud – one of the largest health care frauds in American history, in fact – Dr. Farid Fata, who was sentenced to 45 years in prison just last year, admitted in court to [intentionally and wrongfully] diagnosing healthy people with cancer.

Fata was charged with running a $35-million Medicare fraud scheme that involved billing the government for medically unnecessary oncology and hematology treatments. More than 1000 people were affected. When asked about his unscrupulous practice of diagnosing cancer and prescribing chemo drugs, he simply said, “I knew that it was medically unnecessary.”

Again, this is an extreme case of medical fraud, but it still highlights some of the unscrupulous activities performed by some medical professionals.

In the following video, Dr. Peter Glidden briefly speaks on the pocketing of cash by oncologists, as well as the problems with chemotherapy. Unfortunately, I was unable to find the study he referenced to back up his claims. There is, however, a 2004 study that came to similar conclusions claimed by Glidden. The study suggests that the overall contribution of chemotherapy to survival up to 5 years after diagnosis may be about 2%

The study concluded:

“The overall contribution of curative and adjuvant cytotoxic chemotherapy to 5-year survival in adults was estimated to be 2.3% in Australia and 2.1% in the USA.

As the 5-year relative survival rate for cancer in Australia is now over 60%, it is clear that cytotoxic chemotherapy only makes a minor contribution to cancer survival. To justify the continued funding and availability of drugs used in cytotoxic chemotherapy, a rigorous evaluation of the cost-effectiveness and impact on quality of life is urgently required.”


At the very least, collectively acknowledging these issues can help us as a society step away from any questionable nature that may exist within the healthcare industry.