The Medicare panel charged with recommending which drugs the government health program should cover has approved Dendreon Corporation’s prostate cancer drug, Provenge. The panelists reported having “intermediate” confidence in the benefits of the drug, which runs $93,000 per patient and extends a patient’s life an average of four months.
Medicare has yet to make a final decision regarding Provenge, but many view the panel’s recommendation as an effective approval. Medicare coverage could turn Provenge into a blockbuster drug and a huge profit machine for Dendreon because the majority of the 200,000 men diagnosed with prostate cancer annually receive their health coverage through Medicare.
Cleared last April by the Food and Drug Administration, Provenge is already covered by many private health insurers, and Medicare’s decision to review the drug for approval outraged critics. The government health plan is legally barred from considering cost in decisions regarding whether to cover a specific treatment or drug.