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Journal Times editorial: Controversial drug drains seniors’ cash

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Senior citizens across the land were overjoyed – well, that may be too strong a word – with the recent news that come January, Social Security payments to retirees would be bumped up 5.9%.

The sizeable increase in the cost-of-living adjustment will mean an extra $92 a month for the average retired worker. The downside, of course, is that it won’t cover the rising prices for gas, food and other essentials as inflation in the U.S. has risen 6.22% in the past 12 months.

Put Ramen noodles or Kraft macaroni and cheese back on the household menu for the week.

But, hold onto your wallet, the federal government wasn’t done with the details on its Social Security adjustment.

Word came last week that Medicare’s “Part B” outpatient premium will jump by $21.60 a month — the biggest ever in dollar terms. The new premium for Part B coverage will be $170.10 per month. We can do the math. That means instead of a $92 a month boost in Social Security payments, seniors will see an increase of a little over $70 a month to deal with rising costs.

More ramen, and check the price of gruel, seniors.

What, we wondered, was triggering the jumbo boost in the Medicare Part B coverage?

Medicare officials said last week that half of that $21.60 was because Medicare was setting up a “contingency plan” in case Medicare had to cover Aduhelm, the new $56,000-a-year medication for Alzheimer’s disease from pharmaceutical company Biogen.

Medicare won’t decide whether to pay for Aduhelm until sometime next year.

Alzheimer’s is a progressive neurological disease with no known cure that affects about 6 million Americans, most of them old enough to qualify for Medicare. It can be devastating in its impacts, robbing them of cognitive functions and memory to the point that they don’t even recognize family.

But Aduhelm does not cure Alzheimer’s disease. The new drug works by removing amyloid plaques, a sticky substance that builds up in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s. But many doctors are still skeptical of how well it really works.

The Food and Drug Administration gave conditional approval for Aduhelm in June, even though an advisory panel had recommended against allowing the drug on the market. According to a National Public Radio report, “of the two large studies of Aduhelm submitted to the FDA, one found the drug was able to delay the loss of memory and thinking, while the other found no clear benefits.”

“This is not a cure,” said Dr. Zaldy Tan, head of the memory and aging program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. “The disease will continue and perhaps the best case scenario is that someone will get a modest improvement in their cognition. But it’s not going to stop the disease from progressing.”

Dr. Tan told NPR, “What’s not in question is the fact that it (Aduhelm) can cause cerebral hemorrhage and swelling in a significant number of patients.”

So let’s get this straight: Medicare is setting up a contingency plan — which is government-ese for a slush fund — in case it approves a controversial Alzheimer’s drug with high costs and limited potential that also carries possibly serious side effects?

And to fund that slush proposal, they will dip into the pockets of Medicare seniors and pluck out $10 a month — or $120 a year next year. Is there an opt out of this federal robbery program? Will seniors get a cash-back refund if Medicare decides not to cover this pricey drug?

U.S. Rep Bryan Steil? U.S. Sens. Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin? isn’t this the type of constituent service that you always tell us you specialize in helping with? Or do Wisconsin seniors have to put up with this chicanery that robs them of needed retirement dollars?

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