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Physicians urge Medicare to retract anemia drug rules

August 31, 2007|From Bloomberg News

The largest group of U.S. cancer doctors asked Medicare to lift rules that restrict use of anemia drugs made by Amgen Inc. and Johnson & Johnson, saying the policy interferes with the treatment of patients.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology, an organization with 23,000 members, said it submitted a written request Thursday that Medicare change the policy adopted last month. Another physician group, the American Society of Hematology, plans to join the challenge.

Amgen has lost $25 billion, or 27%, of its stock market value this year since its anemia medicines Aranesp and Epogen were linked to heart risks. U.S. sales of Aranesp dropped 19% in the second quarter after the Food and Drug Administration warned doctors to use the lowest doses possible. Medicare followed the FDA action July 30 with a policy requiring doctors to use lower doses than are approved in the agency's guidelines.

The rules imposed by Medicare, the U.S. health program for the elderly and disabled, may limit "physicians' ability to provide the care they judge most appropriate for their patients," Joseph Bailes, chairman of the cancer group's government relations council, said in an Aug. 3 letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency that oversees Medicare.

The policy states that Medicare won't pay for Amgen's anemia drugs and Johnson & Johnson's Procrit when a patient's hemoglobin count exceeds 10 grams per deciliter of blood. The current FDA-approved prescribing information says the drugs can be used at as much as 12 grams a deciliter.

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