Cancer centers demand access to Avastin

Holly Pitt Young Contributor
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The impact of the president’s health care reform plan is becoming evident but not in the way its supporters envisioned.

Supporters promoted the plan as a way of lowering health care insurance premiums, but insurance premiums are skyrocketing across the nation. Health insurance premiums are expected to rise by an average of 8.8 percent next year and employees’ out-of-pocket expenses are expected to increase by 12.5 percent.

Supporters promised increased access to health care. Instead, major companies are dropping their insurance plans for their employees because of the costs associated with Obamacare, while others, like McDonald’s, are delaying the inevitable until next year.

But worst yet, supporters promised that care would never be rationed, but the Food and Drug Administration has proposed denying breast cancer patients access to the late-stage breast cancer drug Avastin by creating a subjective approval standard that would allow the cost of the drug to be part of the evaluation process. The FDA will make a final decision on the matter sometime before December 17th.

While the agency officially claims that cost has nothing to do with this decision, Jean Grem of the FDA’s Oncology Drug Advisory Committee was cited in the The Wall Street Journal explaining why she voted to deprive breast cancer patients of Avastin: “We aren’t supposed to talk about cost, but that’s another issue.”

It is not “another issue” — it is “the issue” and those who work with cancer patients on the front lines know it.

Joining the Susan Komen Foundation in raising objections to the pending decision is the National Comprehensive Cancer Network — a not-for-profit alliance of 21 top cancer centers, including the Stanford Comprehensive Cancer Center and the University of California, San Francisco’s Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center. NCCN has affirmed its guidelines for using Avastin in combination with the Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. chemotherapy agent Taxol to treat metastatic breast cancer. NCCN’s guidelines are widely accepted by doctors, so its affirmation is largely a vote for Avastin.

Should the FDA move forward and “de-label” the drug, patients will still have access to the drug and its benefits but only if they can afford to pay for it themselves. De-labeling Avastin will create a two-tier health care system like the ones that exist in countries that have government-run health care systems, like Great Britain.

The time to speak up is now. Price should never be a determining factor in whether patients should get the most modern and effective health care treatments. But as with ObamaCare’s other broken promises, things don’t look good when it comes to the rationing of health care for seniors and breast cancer patients.

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