Medicare to pay for $93,000 prostate cancer drug

Mar 30, 2011 By MATTHEW PERRONE , AP Health Writer

(AP) -- Medicare officials said Wednesday that the program will pay the $93,000 cost of prostate cancer drug Provenge, an innovative therapy that gives men suffering from the disease an extra four months to live, on average.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid said the biotech drug made by Dendreon Corp. is a "reasonable and necessary" medicine. The decision ensures that thousands of men will be able to receive the drug through the federal government. The agency will take comments on the decision for 90 days before making it final.

Medicare is legally prohibited from considering price when deciding whether to pay for a new treatment. The approved Provenge last April and in most cases Medicare automatically covers drugs cleared by the agency. But Provenge's price tag has prompted debate about the cost of medical care and the government's role in paying for it. The agency's decision to review Provenge last year prompted outrage from some patients and doctors who said Medicare was looking for a reason to avoid reimbursing for the pricey drug.

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 patients point out that the average survival time with Provenge is double that of , 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 - 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.

The news sent Dendreon shares up 46 cents to $35.97 in after-hours trading. The stock closed the regular session down 34 cents at $35.54 before the announcement.

Explore further: Hazelwood coal fire linked to 11 deaths

not rated yet
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

FDA approves breakthrough cancer therapy Provenge

Apr 29, 2010

(AP) -- A first-of-a-kind prostate cancer treatment that uses the body's immune system to fight the disease received federal approval Thursday, offering an important alternative to more intensive treatments like chemotherapy.

Prostate cancer vaccine extends survival in study

Apr 28, 2009

(AP) -- An experimental treatment added four months to the lives of men with advanced prostate cancer, doctors reported Tuesday in a study that tested an entirely new approach to fighting the disease.

Who gets expensive cancer drugs? A tale of 2 nations

Dec 14, 2009

The well-worn notion that patients in the United States have unfettered access to the most expensive cancer drugs while the United Kingdom's nationalized health care system regularly denies access to some high-cost treatments ...

Recommended for you

Hazelwood coal fire linked to 11 deaths

10 minutes ago

It is likely air pollution from the 2014 Hazelwood coal mine fire in Victoria caused the premature deaths of 11 people, a QUT health researcher said.

Reduce your risk of falls

50 minutes ago

If you are over 65 and have had a fall before, researchers at the University of Sydney think you should balance on one leg to brush your teeth, bend your knees to pack the dishwasher and take the stairs more often.

Dirty water raising health risk in flooded Kashmir

2 hours ago

The floodwaters are finally receding in much of Kashmir, but health experts worry a crisis could be looming with countless bloated livestock floating across the waterlogged region and hundreds of thousands ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

mvg
not rated yet Mar 31, 2011
4 months!!
Sounds like they are less interested in curing disease than just prolonging the process of death.