Opinion

Newsweek promotes rationing

Holly Pitt Young Contributor

Breast cancer patients from across the nation are up in arms over a proposed FDA decision that would literally rip the drug Avastin from their doctor’s hands.  The life-extending drug has been credited, in part, with helping patients live longer.  But the pleas from patients are not enough for the ideologues at Newsweek who are pressing for price rationing of drugs.

In a recent article entitled “It’s Not About Rationing,” Sharon Begley mistakes basic facts about the drug and its effectiveness.  According to Begley, “Although Avastin does extend the lives of patients with metastatic colorectal and kidney cancer, and remains FDA-approved for those uses, the new studies show it does not work the same miracle against metastatic breast cancer (MBC). Instead, Avastin increased what’s called progression-free survival (how long before cancer spreads or grows) by as little as a month, depending on which chemo agent it was paired with.”  Not True.  In fact, this claim is just flat out wrong.

The Wall Street Journal addressed these specious claims: “The median overall survival benefit for one subgroup of 496 patients between the ages of 40 and 64 was an additional 5.7 months of life. Some individuals gain years. At any rate, even the 31% reduction in the risk of disease progression or death is better than the status quo.”

No one has ever claimed Avastin is a cure for cancer.  But the drug, for some patients, is a miracle.  For others, it does not work. But taking steps that would inevitably deny insurance coverage for the drug — which is what the Food and Drug Administration is proposing — would be a death sentence to low-income patients and seniors who rely on Medicare.

Begley has little sympathy for the patients who rely on drugs like Avastin to live. “There are stories galore of women with metastatic breast cancer who are alive “because of Avastin.” Indeed, patients have been flooding the airwaves and blogosphere with claims that Avastin helped them. But the only way to tell whether Avastin deserves the credit for keeping patients alive is through large studies.”  Does she really believe that denying insurance coverage will leave breast cancer patients better off?

In fact, she might.  Her article links to another Newsweek article partially entitled, “Heatlh Care Rationing: Bring it On,” an ode to rationing.

The time has come to listen to breast cancer patients, not lecture them about the need for further study.  No wonder Newsweek and Time are going the way of the dodo bird.

Holly Pitt Young is a frequently interviewed expert in Washington, D.C. who focuses on the crossroads between policy and political engagement