Medicare and the Alzheimer’s Drug

This image provided by Biogen on Monday, June 7, 2021 shows packaging for the drug Aduhelm. (Biogen via AP)

This image provided by Biogen on Monday, June 7, 2021 shows a vial and packaging for the drug Aduhelm. (Biogen via AP)

This image provided by Biogen on Monday, June 7, 2021 shows a vial and packaging for the drug Aduhelm. (Biogen via AP)

The good news for senior citizens is that starting next year, they will see an increase in their monthly social security check. The bad news is they will also see an increase in their Medicare part B premium. And so goes the shell game being run by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the FDA, and their not so silent partner, Big Pharma.

Last month, CMS announced that the average Medicare Part B premium would rise by just over $21 per month. That may not seem like much to some folks, but to others living on a fixed income, it might as well be $1,000 per month. That’s one problem. The other is that the increase is being driven by a single drug that may or may not be effective, and may or may not even be prescribed. That drug is Aduhelm, and it is made by those stellar humanitarians at Biogen.

Biogen claims that Aduhelm can reduce plaque in the brain, and could, therefore, slow the rate of dementia. The company also says the cost of the drug (which must be administered intravenously) is about $56,000 per year. Never mind that it won’t cure Alzheimer’s, might not even retard it, and, according to some independent sources, is grossly overpriced. Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports that last year, an FDA advisory panel voted against recommending Aduhelm’s approval, “citing flaws in Biogen’s studies.” Also, Biogen executives are under Congressional investigation for improper contact with FDA officials.

Those of us who have family members with Alzheimer’s would like nothing better than to know that a new miracle drug exists, but Aduhelm isn’t that miracle. It isn’t even close. What’s more, Biogen has apparently inflated the cost of the drug to such a degree, that it is now driving an increase in monthly premiums for every senior citizen, even if no one ever uses Aduhelm. In fact, CMS officials told the AP that half the increase in next year’s Medicare Part B premiums is “due to contingency planning IF the program ultimately has to cover Aduhelm.”

This all begs the question, who the hell is overseeing CMS? Supposedly that job falls to the House subcommittee on Health, so I was going to call North Carolina representative George Butterworth who sits on that committee. But, alas, Butterworth is retiring, plus, according to GovTrack, he has been investigated for pocketing the difference “between his requested travel per diems, and the amount he actually spent.” On second thought, maybe he wouldn’t have been the best person to expose price gouging.

It should be noted, however, that Congress is considering a compromise bill that would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices, and, if passed, that could go a long way toward neutralizing alleged price gouging companies like Biogen. But in the case of Aduhelm, the new legislation wouldn’t help because Democrats on the Hill had to agree to exclude all newly launched drugs from the negotiating process. Call me reactionary, but all this seems a lot like elder abuse.


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