Will CMS restrict anemia-drug reimbursements?

Those embattled anemia drugs may see another hit to sales after a Medicare review this week. On Wednesday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will ask expert panelists for help determining reimbursement levels for the drugs nationwide.

Currently, Medicare has no formal reimbursement policy for use of Amgen's Aranesp and Epogen and Johnson & Johnson's Procrit in kidney patients. Reimbursements thus vary from region to region. By formulating a nationwide policy, analysts said, CMS is likely to push for less use of the drugs.

It would be yet another blow to Amgen and J&J, which have watched sales of these drugs deteriorate over the last several years as concerns about their safety grew. Studies have shown that high doses are linked to risks of cardiovascular problems, even death, in some patients. Even though CMS doesn't have a widespread, formal reimbursement policy, it has taken steps to discourage use of high doses.

Nonetheless, the drugs are broadly used. CMS notes that more than 95 percent of patients on dialysis are prescribed at least one of them. Analysts now are expecting a move to restrict reimbursement--and a commensurate decline in sales of 15 percent to 20 percent. "It's probably going to clip sales to some extent," Leerink Swann analyst Joshua Schimmer tells Reuters. "At the end of the day, we're all expecting it."

- see the Reuters story