By MATTHEW PERRONE, AP Health Writer
WASHINGTON – Medicare officials said Wednesday that the program will pay the $93,000 cost of prostate cancer drug Provenge, an innovative therapy that typically gives men suffering from an incurable stage of the disease an extra four months to live.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid said the biotech drug made by Dendreon Corp. is a "reasonable and necessary" medicine. The decision ensures that millions of men would be able to afford the drug through the government-backed health care coverage. With government reimbursement, analysts estimate Provenge could rack up $1 billion in sales next year. The decision, which will be finalized by June 30, is important for Dendreon because most prostate cancer patients are 65 or older.
Medicare is legally prohibited from considering price when deciding whether to pay for a new treatment. ...
The infused drug is a first-of-a-kind treatment in that each dose is customized to work with a patient's immune system. Seattle-based Dendreon says Provenge's price reflects the more than $1 billion spent researching and developing the drug. And prostate cancer patients point out that the median survival time with Provenge is double that of chemotherapy, which is about two months and is marked by significant side effects.
"It's impossible to put a dollar figure on a human life, especially when you're talking about a drug that has such mild side effects," said Jim Kiefert, a prostate cancer patient and advocate who was part of the Provenge study. "Of all the treatments I've had — with surgery, radiation and hormone treatment — Provenge had fewer side effects than any of them."
But bioethicists who study health care decisions say Medicare's ruling on Provenge mirrors the bias of the overall U.S. health system, which emphasizes expensive treatments over basic medical care. Health care costs account for nearly one fifth of the U.S. economy, more than any other country.
"We tend to put our health care dollars into very high-tech interventions that produce very marginal improvements," said Dr. Steven Miles, a professor at the University of Minnesota's Center for Bioethics. "The problem is that we have created a health care system that is uniquely inadequate in terms of access to primary health care, which is where you get the most bang for your buck."
A growing number of biologically engineered cancer drugs are being priced in the $100,000 range, including therapies from Roche and Eli Lilly & Co. Last week, Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. received approval for a new melanoma drug that will be priced at roughly $120,000 per patient.
I don't agree with this decision at all. We need to spend our health care dollars more wisely. The $93,000 price tag is ridiculous -- as is spending on-fifth of our economic output on health care when most of those dollars go to high-cost drugs and procedures that deliver marginal results.
Edited by Palisade, 31 March 2011 - 12:23 AM.