According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are an estimated 6.2 million Americans who have Alzheimer’s disease. More than 1 in 9 people (11.3%) age 65 and older has Alzheimer’s disease. The number of people living with the disease doubles every 5 years beyond age 65. This number is projected to nearly triple to 14 million Americans by 2060.
These statistics should alarm everyone, but apparently, they don’t. How else to explain why many in Congress are trying to stop the federal government from paying for the first drug that has ever shown real progress in the battle to combat this dread disease?
Recently I wrote of this breakthrough in the treatment of Alzheimer’s with the FDA approval of the drug aducanumab, which is manufactured by Biogen as Aduhelm (Alzheimer’s Hope Arrives). In that post I explained: “The cause of Alzheimer’s is still elusive but its hallmark is amyloid plaques and tau tangles in the brain, which usually begins long before symptoms become apparent. Many scientists believe removing amyloid could slow disease progression. This is how aducanumab works, by clearing amyloid. A high dose of the drug in a late-stage trial removed 71% of the amyloid buildup after 18 months.”
The Wall Street Journal editorial board tells us that public-health officials and media critics failed to stop federal approval of the drug, so now they’re mounting an assault on the drug’s cost to stop Medicare from paying for it. “It’s unconscionable to ask seniors and taxpayers to pay $56,000 a year for a drug that has yet to be proven effective,” Oregon Senator Ron Wyden tweeted after the FDA approved the drug this month.
The annual cost of treating Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias in the U.S. is expected to reach $355 billion this year. While $56,000 a year is a lot of money, it is not unusual for many other new drugs, especially cancer drugs, and is sure to come down as treatment success spurs competition in the marketplace. The WSJ says a drug price war last decade between Gilead and AbbVie caused Hepatitis C treatment net prices to fall by nearly 80 percent. Competition may also occur with Alzheimer’s treatments as several therapies that have shown promise in clinical trials aim to seek approval in the next few years. If we refuse to pay the high price of breakthroughs in disease treatment, we will never make progress in the treatment of any disease.
The WSJ explains the FDA approval process: “The FDA approved Aduhelm because it significantly reduced amyloid. Many of Aduhelm’s critics in the public-health crowd have criticized the FDA’s accelerated approval program for years. They don’t believe drugs with incremental benefits should be approved.”
If Aduhelm delays the progression of the disease for some patients by even a year or two, it will save tens of billions of dollars in Medicare, Medicaid, home care, and other health costs. The WSJ summarizes the real problem: “The hostility to Aduhelm illustrates the healthcare paternalism of American progressives. They believe we spend too much money on old people. They want to put the government in charge of paying for all healthcare, and then put “experts” in charge of determining what treatments patients can receive so that the elderly can go gently into the night.”
These are the same people who want us all to have socialized medicine. You can be sure that if that ever happens, drugs for the elderly – in fact treatment of any disease for the elderly – will be their lowest priority.