What’s the hang up over the FDA-approved Alzheimer’s drug?

May 18, 2023, 8:00 PM | Updated: May 19, 2023, 9:20 am

FILE - A sign for Eli Lilly & Co. sits outside their corporate headquarters in Indianapolis on ...

FILE - A sign for Eli Lilly & Co. sits outside their corporate headquarters in Indianapolis on April 26, 2017. The company said Wednesday, May 3, 2023, that its experimental Alzheimer’s drug appeared to slow worsening of the mind-robbing disease in a large study. However, the drug hasn't been approved by the Centers for Medicaid and Medcare Services. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings, File)

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings, File)

SALT LAKE CITY — Alzheimer’s is a disease that is found in a lot of individuals. According to a study by the CDC, there were nearly 6 million Americans living with the disease in 2020.

In January, NBC News reported the Food and Drug Administration had approved a new drug to help in the fight against Alzheimer’s.

Since then, however, questions about the safety of the drug and its cost have been brought to light by the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services. As such, it’s not available among those people who have either Medicaid or Medicare. 

Jeremy Cunningham, public policy director for the Alzheimer’s Association joined Dave & Dujanovic on Thursday to discuss the situation.

Debbie Dujanovic starts the conversation by saying, “There is a massive amount of red tape, and this drug is not getting into the hands of the Medicaid patients.”

“It’s much more than red tape,” Cunningham said. “Red tape is one thing. But this is complete blockage by the Centers for Medicaid Medicare Services.”

Cunningham says FDA has approved a series of drugs to help in the fight against the disease.

“We’ve had two that were OK,” he said. “They were good.”

He says the new drug has a 35% to 40% effective rate at slowing the disease.

Alzheimer’s can cause havoc on an individual, erasing their ability to function.

“Ultimately, it will cause them to die,” Cunningham said. “Their brain will ultimately shut down. You’ll forget how to eat. You’ll forget how to swallow. It can be a very long and traumatic disease.”

Cunningham says there are more than 2,000 Americans every day who are becoming ineligible. Because there is a time frame for these drugs to be most effective. 

He says the first two drugs are most effective in the early stages of the disease. However, the latest drug is for those in mid-stage of the disease.

“When you think that we have one of the youngest populated states,” Cunningham said. “But we have one of the oldest, the residents of Utah live forever.”

Dujanovic asked, “So, if somebody wanted to pay out of pocket for this drug, they could do so, right?”

Cunningham says they could, but it costs $25,000 a year.

Cunningham says the Alzheimer’s Association wants the drug to be covered by Medicaid and Medicare so those who need the drug can have access to it. 

Dujanovic asked, “Is there something they’re concerned about regarding the side effects of these drugs that is haltering their stamp of approval?”

“There have been deaths with these drugs,” Cunningham said. “I mean it’s been minimal. That’s not the reason to get through the studies.”

Cunningham says there have been nine congressional hearings, and still nobody can get an answer. Additionally, 26 Attorney Generals from around the country are also fighting Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services over the issue, including Utah’s Sean Reyes. 

Listen to the entire segment.


Dave & Dujanovic can be heard on weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon.


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What’s the hang up over the FDA-approved Alzheimer’s drug?