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Commentary

Editorial: Cover These Treatments
Frank R. Lichtenberg, Washington Post, 8-20-04

When it comes to speed and responsiveness, the federal government is usually about as agile as a Jersey cow knee deep in mud. Sometimes this costs people their lives. According to Frank Lichtenberg, a medical economist at Columbia University, Medicare doesn’t cover some of the latest cancer drugs because they come in oral form, and won’t cover them until Medicare prescription drug coverage takes effect in 2006.

This is a tragic oversight because recent cancer research shows that many breakthrough chemotherapy drugs are available only in oral formulations, or are more effective in oral form. Currently, Medicare only covers cancer drugs given intravenously in a doctor's office. Covering drugs in oral form now would undoubtedly help cut Medicare costs, improve cancer patient care, and lessen the strain on care givers who must transport very sick patients too and from doctor's offices.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are in the midst of a sea-change, led by Administrator Mark McClellan, who very much deserves his many accolades. Still, Medicare should find a way to cover these prescription treatments now, rather than in 15 months. Lives depend on it.



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