Blue Shield of California First to Cut Breast Cancer Treatment

Talk that the Food and Drug Administration will withdraw their approval of breast cancer treatment drug Avastin, has led Blue Shield of California to end reimbursement for the drug.

Avastin, sold by Genetech, costs about $88,000 a year, and for many women it is not possible to pay for it out of pocket.  In addition to the exorbitant cost, the effectiveness of the drug is widely argued.

The most recent clinical trials report that Avastin delays the progression of the disease by only one to three months.

The issue began back in June when a federal advisory committee agreed that Avastin did not help patients and advised the F.D.A. to withdraw support for the drug. Although F.D.A. has yet to make a final decision, Blue Shield of California, an insurance company with 3.2 million members, went ahead and removed Avastin from its cancer treatment coverage.

Other insurers have decided to wait for the final decision from the F.D.A. due to the sensitivity of the issue. According to Andrew Pollack from the New York Times,

“it is an emotional and politically contentious issue, with some women saying the drug is keeping them alive”.

Medicare has claimed that it will continue paying for the cancer treatment regardless of the FDA’s decision. Blue Shield, however, did declare on their website that,

“exceptions may be considered on a case-by-case basis”.

Stephen M. Shivinsky, a spokesman for Blue Shield said the insurer would continue to pay for the drug for women who were already using it for cancer treatment.

The drug’s effectiveness and importance can be argued both ways, but when the final decision is made by the F.D.A, the future of this cancer treatment will be further determined.

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