Breast cancer patients on edge

Derek Hunter Contributor

As the government moves to involve itself in more of our healthcare in the ramp-up to the implementation of Obamacare, the old ways in which it interferes with the doctor-patient relationship serve as a stark reminder of what is come. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the regulatory body that basically sets the tone for which drugs patients have access to, is preparing to dramatically shift the drug approval process for the United States.  It appears that using the late-stage cancer drug Avastin as a test case, the FDA is using cost as a factor in the drug approval process.  The result of the “de-labeling” of the drug is that only those who can afford to pay for the drug will have access to it.  Medicare and private insurance companies will be able to deny breast cancer patients coverage for this life-extending drug.

CNN reports on what the decision could mean to cancer patients, including Marcia Gilbert who has fought breast cancer for 15 years and relies on Avastin to keep cancer away.  For cancer patients like Gilbert, the FDA’s decision creates fear and anxiety about the future.

The senior citizens rights group 60 Plus has measured this anxiety with a new poll of the American people.  It’s not just cancer patients that fear what the FDA is proposing.  Seniors and women — especially swing seniors and women — are upset about it.

According to the poll,

  • 47% of registered American voters oppose the recently passed healthcare reform law, compared to 41% who support it.
  • 56% of registered American voters believe the new healthcare reform law will lead to so-called “rationing” of care. 26% disagree.  Even 2008 Obama voters have their doubts: 39% believe it is likely to lead to rationing; 39% do not.
  • 82% believe that cost-effectiveness is NOT a justification for rationing, agreeing with the statement, “As a matter of principle, the government should not ration care or deny treatment options based on what it calls ‘cost-effectiveness.’ I don’t trust the government to put a cost on human life.” Only 7% disagree.
  • 71% believe “the government is likely to limit treatment options through Medicare and Medicaid based on cost within the next several years,” compared to 10% who believe it is unlikely. 44% say it is “very likely.”
  • 85% report they will be truly “angry”if the government does in fact ration Medicare and Medicaid,” including 59% who respond it will make them “very angry.”  Importantly in this election year, 87% of swing-vote seniors say that Medicare and Medicaid rationing would make them “angry.”

  • 72% believe that the FDA should have nothing to do with “cost-effective” decisions, compared to 16% who want it involved in judging treatments based on cost.  82% of senior swing voters want the FDA to stay out of cost-based decisions.
  • 63% of Americans oppose the FDA’s consideration of revocation in the Avastin case, compared to 16% who support it. This includes 68% of senior swing voters who oppose it, 70% of female swing voters, and 60% of Obama voters.
  • 78% “worry” that the FDA’s revocation represents the “start of healthcare rationing” in America. 44% strongly agree.
  • 71% of registered American voters report they would be less likely to vote for any member of Congress who supported the FDA decision on drugs like Avastin. 49% would be “much less likely.”

Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) is not taking the decision lying down.  Recognizing the threat, Vitter has demanded the FDA provide information as to how and why cost has played a role in their decision-making.  “From the beginning, I’ve had serious concerns about the decision by an FDA panel to revoke support for Avastin, which has been a life-saving tool for many women battling advanced forms of cancer,” said Vitter.  “Although I’ve attempted to reach out to the FDA to understand their reasoning behind this decision through a conference call and follow-up letters detailing my concerns, FDA officials have flat-out refused to cooperate with any of my requests for information.  This, unfortunately, suggests a deeply political agenda at FDA as they refuse to be forthcoming and prepare to take a life-extending drug off the market.”

As the battle over Avastin continues, it serves as a canary in a coal mine of what is to come. If Obamacare is fully implemented, the government, and not your doctor, will be the ultimate decision-maker when it comes to your treatment. And cost, not effectiveness, will be their guide.

Derek Hunter is a Washington based writer and consultant. He can be stalked on Twitter @derekahunter