Avastin to be covered by Medicare despite FDA ruling

An FDA panel voted June 29, 2011 to revoke approval for using the drug Avastin to treat breast cancer.
FDA votes down Avastin use

(CBS) Avastin may have gotten the thumbs-down from the FDA, but Medicare says it will continue to cover the cost of the drug for treating breast cancer.

That's potentially big news for breast cancer patients who believe the controversial drug is a life-saver even though an FDA panel ruled Wednesday that the drug is neither safe nor effective against breast cancer.

The final decision as to whether Avastin will lose its approval for treatment of breast cancer will be made sometime after July 28 by FDA commissioner Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, the New York Times reported.

"The FDA decision, when it comes, does not affect CMS," Don McLeod, a spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS), told Reuters. "The drug will still be on the market, doctors will still be prescribing it, and we will continue to pay for it."

Will private insurers follow CMS' lead? A WellPoint Inc. spokeswoman said it would not drop support for patients already taking Avastin and is unlikely to disrupt coverage for new patients, according to Reuters.

Avastin is prohibitively expensive, costing about $8,000 a month, the Los Angeles Times reported.

For now, Avastin's maker, Roche, plans to continue to provide Avastin free to women without insurance or whose insurance abandons coverage for the drug, Reuters reported.

What do doctors say about the fate of Avastin as a breast cancer drug?

Dr. Michael Naughton, assistant professor of medicine at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, told the Los Angeles Times he was disappointed with the FDA decision, saying, "A lot of patients aren't helped at all, but there's a small number who are helped a lot."

Breastcancer.org has more on breast cancer treatment.