Health care debates often focus on budget numbers or policy goals. Seldom do we hear how policy changes will affect actual patients. Take what the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is doing with the late-stage cancer drug Avastin.

To many women with breast cancer, Avastin is a miracle. More than 17,000 use the drug to restrict the flow of blood to tumors, slowing their growth and, in some instances, eliminating them. Each patient reacts differently, but in each case, the drug offers a last chance for life.

The FDA, however, is in the process of changing Avastin’s designation as a breast-cancer drug. The decision would allow it to stay on the market but require patients to pay for it themselves.

Unfortunately, Avastin isn’t cheap. And in an era where the president has mandated that we “reduce the cost of health care,” breast-cancer patients are the first victims of a rationing trend spreading throughout our health care system.

How will women with breast cancer be affected? In an op-ed for San Diego’s Mission Times Courier, Flori Hendron wrote:

Getting my cancer diagnosis 15 years ago, at only 38-years-old, was shocking and heartbreaking. While most friends enjoyed their late-30s with few health concerns, I endured painful radiation burns and slowly lost my hair, my breasts, and even my range of motion. What was also disheartening was the bureaucratic nightmare brought on by my insurance company -- and, as of last year, the FDA.

Avastin gave me my first stable, progression-free scan in years. Today, almost three years since I began the regiment, I'm not only still here, I'm enjoying life to the fullest with my family and friends.

Last month, the FDA moved to strip Avastin of its approval for breast cancer. Ignoring clinical studies and patient testimonials -- mine included, which I sent to the FDA's headquarters -- this step is the first in cutting off Avastin to all breast cancer patients. Without an FDA approval, especially for a pricey drug like Avastin, insurance carriers and Medicare almost always drop coverage.

Whether Avastin keeps a breast cancer patient alive an extra three months or an extra three years is a silly debate. Life doesn't have a price. Maybe someone needs to remind the FDA of that fact.

There’s also Christi Turnage of Madison, Miss. In an op-ed for the San Francisco Chronicle, her son Josh wrote:


Timothy Riley

Timothy Riley is a communications director specializing in health care issues in Washington, D.C.


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