Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations
All Medicare Prescription Drug Plans Should Be Required To Cover Heart Medication BiDil for Black Beneficiaries, According to NAACP Letter
NAACP's New England council President Juan Cofield sent a "sharply worded letter" to the Boston regional office of CMS stating that NitroMed's heart failure drug BiDil, the only drug approved by FDA for use in a single race, should be covered under all Medicare Part D prescription drug plans, the Wall Street Journal reports. The letter "blamed government policy for disparity in the treatment of blacks with heart failure," according to the Journal. BiDil -- which costs approximately $1,400 to $2,800 a year -- has been shown to reduce deaths by about 40% in blacks with congestive heart failure. About 2% of the 750,000 black U.S. residents with the condition use the drug, according to NitroMed. Groups including the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology say there is no evidence to show that BiDil works better than two generic drugs, isosorbide dinitrate and hydralazine, used in combination. CMS requires Medicare Part D providers to cover either BiDil or the two generic versions of the drug, which can cost less than $100 a year to prescribe. However, NAACP contends that the two generics are not an equivalent substitute for BiDil because they require patients to take many more pills and to split some pills in order to obtain the correct dose. The CMS policy "is so contrary to evidence-based medicine and so extraordinary that it arouses suspicions of institutional racism," Cofield wrote in the letter. Jeffrey Kelman, a senior physician at CMS, said NitroMed will have to continue to work with individual insurance providers to expand coverage of the drug. Many Medicare Part D providers already cover BiDil. According to NitroMed, 57% of black U.S. residents with health insurance have coverage for the drug, compared with 20% six months ago (Winstein, Wall Street Journal, 1/25).
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