USA –Patient advocacy groups have launched a public pressure campaign to persuade the United States government to relax proposed restrictions on new Alzheimer’s treatments, spending millions of dollars on television and local advertisements that began airing during Sunday morning political shows, Reuters reports.
The unusual advertising campaign follows a high-profile disagreement between government health agencies over who should have access to Biogen’s Aduhelm, the first treatment for the mind-wasting disease approved in 20 years.
In January, the government’s Medicare program, which provides health benefits to Americans 65 and older, proposed paying for Biogen’s drug and similar treatments in development only for patients who were enrolled in years-long government studies.
The drugs under consideration remove amyloid plaques from the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. The agency has until April 11 to make a final decision on coverage.
The highly restrictive move came after the Food and Drug Administration approved Aduhelm last June, despite the fact that only one of two late-stage trials showed that it helped slow cognitive decline.
The Medicare plan, as currently written, would also apply to plaque-clearing drugs in advanced development by Eli Lilly and Company, Roche Holding, and Eisai Co Ltd.
USAgainstAlzheimer’s, one of the largest U.S.-based groups representing Alzheimer’s patients, has announced that it will fund advertisements in the Washington, D.C., and Baltimore areas aimed at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the White House, and Congress.
“We want to put a face on the individuals that are affected by this Medicare decision,” said USAgainstAlzheimer’s Chairman George Vradenburg,
“We tend to talk about big numbers. We don’t talk about individual people,” he added.
He said the group is spending millions on the campaign, which will feature Alzheimer’s patients, including social media outreach and print ads on bus stops and other transportation in the Washington area.
Many have the tag line “Alzheimer’s patients can’t wait.”
Thousands decry drug access denial
Thousands of patients and doctors have already written to the Medicare agency, echoing the companies’ claims that patients should not be denied access to new drugs once they have been approved. Simultaneously, many comments praised Medicare for limiting Aduhelm’s use.
Aduhelm’s price, which was reduced in December from US$56,000 per year to US$28,200, raised concerns about Medicare’s budget because Alzheimer’s is an age-related disease and approximately 85 percent of people eligible for the drug are covered by the government plan.
The number of Alzheimer’s patients in the United States is expected to increase from more than 6 million today to 13 million by 2050.
Aduhelm, which is approved for people in the early stages of the memory-robbing illness, is expected to be available to approximately 1 million people, according to Biogen.
The Alliance for Aging Research has planned a protest across the street from the HHS headquarters in Washington on Tuesday, during which patients, caregivers, and others will call on Medicare to reconsider its restrictive plan.
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