Medicare To Begin To Cover Expensive Therapy for Patients With Brain Cancer
Medicare officials on Tuesday announced that the program will begin to cover Gliadel Wafer therapy, an "expensive" treatment manufactured by Guilford Pharmaceuticals that can improve survival rates for brain cancer patients with glioma and glioblastoma tumors, the Arizona Daily Star reports. Patients who receive Gliadel Wafer therapy must first receive surgery to remove the tumors from their brains. After surgery, physicians place about six to eight Gliadel Wafers in the brain cavities left by the removal of the tumors. The Gliadel wafers are saturated with the chemotherapy medication BCNU, which is released directly into the brain tissue as the wafers dissolve.
Systemic side effects often associated with chemotherapy are minimal for patients who receive Gliadel Wafer therapy, and their survival rates increase by four times on average. In a 1996 study, researchers randomized 240 brain cancer patients to receive either standard treatment for glioma and glioblastoma tumors or Gliadel Wafer therapy. The study found that after three years, nine participants in the Gliadel Wafer group had survived, compared with two in the standard treatment group.
According to Guilford, only 9% of eligible patients receive Gliadel Wafer therapy, which FDA approved in 1996. In the past, Medicare covered only the $15,000 cost of the surgery required for patients who receive Gliadel Wafer therapy, but not the $12,000 treatment cost. Guilford worked with lawmakers and surgeons to petition Medicare to cover Gliadel Wafer therapy.
The decision by Medicare to cover Gliadel Wafer therapy likely will prompt private health insurers to provide similar coverage, and experts said that the decision will "signal to drug researchers that it is worth their time and effort to bring expensive new treatments to market," the Daily Star reports. "This is a technology that took us 20 years to figure out and develop, and it would have been a pity to see it die because of an economic stranglehold," Dr. Allan Hamilton, chief of surgery at the University of Arizona and one of the developers of Gliadel Wafer therapy, said. Dr. Abhay Sanan of the University of Arizona added, "This is really fantastic news because these are the patients who are really in the hardest position" (Erikson, Arizona Daily Star, 8/4).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.