Alzheimer’s group amps public pressure with ad campaign as Medicare decision looms

A new seven-figure ad campaign takes aim – again – at Medicare’s pending coverage decision on Alzheimer’s disease anti-amyloid drugs.

UsAgainstAlzheimer’s launched the $1 million-plus national effort Sunday, including a TV ad that ran across the the day’s morning talk news shows. The group is the latest to push back on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ proposed decision to only cover Biogen and Eisais’s Aduhelm and other potential anti-beta amyloid drugs for patients in clinical trials. CMS’ final decision is set for release on April 11.

The first UsAgainstAlzheimer’s TV ad features a real Alzheimer’s patient who talks about his diagnosis and then says: “There are new treatments that could slow the progression of Alzheimer’s. Medicare plans to deny coverage for these new treatments – and that’s wrong.” A second TV ad will begin running soon.

Digital display ads online as well as outdoor bus stops advertising in Baltimore and Washington D.C. also are running. Both feature QR codes that when scanned, re-direct people to the UsAgainstAlzheimer’s Action webpage where they can opt-in to send a letter to President Joe Biden and their local Congressional members. The White House, local senators and representatives email addresses auto populate based on zip code along with a suggested letter that can be customized by the sender.

Critics push back on Alzheimer’s Association ad blitz to get Medicare to change its Aduhelm ruling: ‘Dead wrong’
On social media, physicians and researchers who opposed the controversial Aduhelm approval – and ensuing CMS coverage – pushed back on the new UsAgainstAlzheimer’s campaign.

“Alzheimer’s Association and UsAgainstAlzheimers are not patient groups. The aducanumab saga has exposed that they are actually paid to lobby groups. Lobbying for a clinically ineffective drug that has potentially fatal side-effects shows how little they care for AD patients,” Robert Howard, a professor and old age psychiatrist at UCL, wrote in a post responding to Reuters coverage of the campaign.

However, UsAgainstAlzeheimer’s founder George Vradenburg disputed that, saying they didn’t speak on behalf of financiers.

“We do have an enormous bias – a bias for patients,” he said. “Whomever finances us – the individuals who finance us, the companies that finance us, we speak the patients’ truth.”

He pointed to the group’s own research with patients and caregivers released Monday. It  asked if new drugs for Alzheimer’s are approved and “reasonably likely to have an effect, while studies to be sure about the effect are still going on,” would they take it “even if it might have bad side effects?”

Three-fourths said they would take it. “My disease is fatal,” one respondent living with Alzheimer’s said. “What could be worse than that?”

UsAgainstAlzheimer’s new campaign is the latest in a series of statements, events and marketing by Alzheimer’s advocacy groups and organizations that came after CMS announced its proposed decision in January. The CMS 30-day window for open comments yielded almost 10,000 responses both for and against coverage.

Immediately after the January decision, the Alzheimer’s Association launched a paid social media campaign that accused Medicare of “creating further health inequities” and call the agency’s decision “simply unacceptable.” The Association encouraged people to lobby Congress and CMS to change course in its final decision, seconded by a host of other advocacy influencers including PhRMA and BIO.

On Tuesday, the Alliance for Aging Research is planning a rally outside the Department of Health and Human Services “to protest the Medicare draft coverage for FDA-approved Alzheimer’s treatments.” People who are living with Alzheimer’s along with family members, Congressional representatives and chronic disease advocate groups will speak.

Global Alzheimer’s Platform’s president John Dwyer, another outspoken critic of CMS’ proposal, plans to talk about his concern the “proposal will delay treatment options for at least another 10 years and poses a threat to health equity in clinical trials.”

The Alzheimer’s Association said in an email to Endpoints News that it is not participating in the Alliance for Aging’s rally in D.C. nor is it working with the UsAgainstAlzheimer’s campaign. A spokesperson said the group has been clear about its position on the CMS draft decision and added that it “continues to use all avenues of communication to ensure those affected, the broader public and the administration truly understand the ramifications of this draft decision.”

The Alzheimer’s groups’ try to distance themselves from Biogen and Eisai’s approved drug Aduhelm specifically. They point to the fact that CMS lumped all anti-amyloid drugs together as a problem for future approvals’ payout. Eli Lilly and Roche along with another Biogen candidate are advancing through studies in the same anti-amyloid class.

Eli Lilly and Roche joined the CMS reply chorus with letters to CMS asking for it to reverse its ruling restricting Aduhelm coverage to patients in clinical studies.

Editor’s note: The story has been updated with comments from the Alzheimer’s Association.

This article is published in Endpoints News, 3/14/22.

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