Medicare to Cover At-Home Blood Thinner Drug Test
Medicare will soon cover an at-home test for thousands of Americans who take the blood thinner Coumadin or warfarin, a generic version of the drug, to "ensure the drug is working properly," the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced yesterday. However, AP/Worcester Telegram & Gazette reports that Medicare will limit coverage to beneficiaries who have artificial heart valves, a "small segment" of the 1.8 million Americans who take warfarin for a number of medical conditions. Although the FDA has approved the at-home test for all patients who use warfarin, CMS, citing cost concerns, said that "it isn't yet convinced" that Medicare should cover the test for beneficiaries without artificial heart valves. Patients who take warfarin must undergo regular tests to ensure that they have the "right amount" of warfarin in their blood. An overdose of warfarin can lead to nosebleeds and bleeding in the brain, while an underdose can prompt "deadly blood clots." International Technidyne Corp. began to market an at-home test, called Protime, in 1997. LifeScan Inc., a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary, plans to sell a rival at-home test next year. However, International Technidyne said that the at-home test "has been slow to gain popularity largely because Medicare, until now, hasn't paid for it." According to CMS, fewer than 5% of warfarin patients use an at-home test. Manufacturers, cardiologists and other medical groups have "long urged" Medicare to cover an at-home test, and the FDA has "touted" the test "as a way for more frequent testing" so that patients might limit blood-thinning side effects (Neergaard, AP/Worcester Telegram & Gazette, 9/27).