Breast Cancer Drug to Be Pulled: Good Science or Health-Care Rationing?

Conservatives argue the FDA is motivated by cost

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The FDA is considering rescinding approval of Avastin, a drug commonly used to treat breast cancer. An FDA advisory panel almost unanimously agreed that the drug should be reconsidered for not demonstrating enough effectiveness in patients. Cancer advocacy groups, though, are split on whether the FDA should look for treatments that work better than Avastin, or allow patients who have had positive experiences with the drug to continue use.

Conservative lawmakers are also speaking out against the FDA's proposal, arguing that the move is a rationing tactic to lower the cost of health care. Andrew Pollack at The New York Times Prescriptions blog reports that, while doctors will still be able to prescribe an "off-label" version of the drug, the cost of this treatment will not be under the yearly price cap formerly enforced by the company that sells Avastin. At around $88,000 a year, most women would not be able to afford the treatment.

Is ditching Avastin a matter of cost or efficacy? Emotions are high here, hearkening back to the infamous "death panel" debates of 2009.

  • Drug Rationing  Conservative opponents of rescinding Avastin's approval argue that the FDA is motivated by the drug's high cost. Big Government's Capitol Confidential blogger believes the price of universal health coverage is leading to drug rationing. "It should be increasingly apparent to event he most ardent health care reformers that the result of ObamaCare is to ration care to the sick and elderly and sacrifice them on the altar of government budgetary goals," he contends. "It's also clear that insurance companies see no problem with denying coverage when they have the blessing of the federal government."
  • Consider Those Who Will be Affected  Family members of cancer patients who have experienced success with Avastin are urging the FDA to the lives that will be effected without access to the drug. Holly Pitt Young shared her mother's positive experience with Avastrin in The Washington Times, writing, "when the FDA makes its Avastin decision this month, I hope it rules in favor of empowering patients and continues to give thousands of women access to the same drug that gave my mother hope and life." College sophomore Josh Turnage, also motivated by his mother's success with Avastrin, turned to the editorial pages to make a bid for the drug's continued approval:
By denying approval for this drug, the FDA is basically telling my mother and my family that her life just isn't worth the price.Of course, this decision isn't just about her. It's about the thousands of women who also have had success with Avastin and may now lose access to their medicine. It's also about the countless women who may need it in the future.
  • Money Has Nothing to Do With It  Upon hearing the "Obamacare rationing" argument touted by Peter Johnson on Fox and Friends, a blogger at Media Matters counters that, "the FDA does not consider cost in its decisions, and studies have shown that Avastin--which was given 'accelerated approval' with the requirement that further studies confirm its benefits--has serious side effects without significantly prolonging life."
  • Last Chance Before the Republicans Take Congress  A group of Republican Congress members sent a letter expressing their concerns with the move to get rid of Avastin to the commissioner of the FDA, reports bloger cringinghere at Red State who finds that regulatory agencies are taking advantage of the end of the Congressional session to push through policies. "The Avastin decision is the first major example of Obamacare rationing and cost-cutting measures all based on bean counting instead of medicine," he writes.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.