Expand Access to Life Saving Alzheimer's drug

Imagine losing your cognitive ability while your body stays in healthy condition. Think about watching your family member’s cognitive ability decline and facing the burden and responsibility of caregiving. It begins by forgetting simple things but progresses into a rapid cognitive decline. This is the reality for the 6 million Americans who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease.

As a State Representative and member of the Aging and Older Adult Services Committee, I understand the importance of ensuring access to preemptive medications in the fight against Alzheimer’s. The Biden administration has called for the United States to lead the fight against diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and HIV, and I want to ensure the same urgency is given to those suffering from the impacts of Alzheimer’s.

A new drug has offered hope to patients with this terrifying diagnosis, a drug called Leqembi which can slow down progression of the disease in early stages. Studies show that twice monthly infusions can slow the decline by 27%. It works by reducing the levels of brain amyloid, a plaque in the brain that causes cognitive decline.

The problem is that millions of people are denied access to this life saving drug as it is financially out of reach for the average senior citizen in America, costing $26,500 a year. For some seniors, that is a year’s worth of income.

The Food and Drug Administration has fast tracked approval for this medication but that’s not enough for The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, who is likely worried about the cost of covering the medicine.

CMS has decided that there is not enough evidence to support coverage of the potentially life-saving medication. Legislators proposed a bill last November that would prevent CMS from restricting access to entire classes of approved drugs without requiring more evidence.

Unfortunately, time is of the essence when fighting Alzheimer’s disease and the weeks or months it could take to set up a registry for patients to be covered would be too late for many patients who will have slipped further into the grasp of this awful disease.

The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that 2,000 people a day move from the mild stage to the moderate phase, which would make this treatment less successful for them.

This drug has been approved by the Veteran’s Health Administration to be covered, and we must follow their lead and approve this drug to be covered under Medicare. There is no reason to do otherwise.

“The results showed the drug produced a clear yet modest clinical benefit in people who were in the early stages of Alzheimer’s,” said National Institute on Aging director, Dr. Richard Hodes, in January.  “In comparison with a placebo, the drug slowed the rate of cognitive decline over 18 months and reduced the levels of brain amyloid.”

With patients, families, and caregivers being affected daily, there is no other option but to move swiftly in the direction of clearing this new class of Alzheimer’s drugs - for general use and coverage by the CMS.

The Biden administration has promised to be an innovator and lead the United States in developing life-saving medication. This promise will not be fulfilled unless we call for action. Most Americans have some connection to Alzheimer’s disease and I’m calling on CMS and U.S. Senator Bob Casey to reverse this overreach by CMS and increase access for millions of people suffering from this fatal disease.