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Valley and Ventura County | VENTURA COUNTY ROUNDUP

Amgen to Lobby for Medicare Payments

January 27, 1998|BARBARA MURPHY

Amgen Inc. said one of its top priorities this year will be to lobby for the reversal of a federal decision that cut Medicare payments for one of its two major drugs.

The U.S. Health Care Finance Administration last year changed its guidelines for treating anemia in kidney patients, and now those whose red blood cell count exceeds a certain level during a 90-day period are not reimbursed for the cost of Amgen's Epogen. Almost all of Epogen's sales are paid for by Medicare.

The government ruling slowed Epogen sales and pushed down Amgen shares from the 52-week high of 69 3/8 on May 21.

"The wheels came off," said Kevin Sharer, Amgen's president and chief operating officer, at a health care conference in San Francisco. "It's difficult to predict what the government will do."

Clinton administration officials have said they are considering cutting the remaining Medicare payments 10% for Epogen, which accounts for almost half of Amgen's revenue. That change could be included in the president's budget proposal, which will be released Feb. 2.

Amgen's two main drugs--Epogen and Neupogen--each bring in more than $1 billion a year in revenue. Neupogen is used to treat a weakened immune system.

The biotech company started selling a third product, the hepatitis drug Infergen, last year. The company also is working on a fourth product, a drug that could be used in patients who undergo bone marrow transplants.

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