In a major victory for PET advocates, CMS this week said it was opening a review of its reimbursement policy on PET scans for Alzheimer’s disease. The review could lead to more generous Medicare and Medicaid payments for PET to detect amyloid buildup in the brain, long known as a link to the debilitating – and inevitably fatal – disease.
Medicare’s current policy on PET for Alzheimer’s has been in place since 2013 and is based on its coverage with evidence (CED) framework; it restricts reimbursement to a single scan per lifetime for patients who must be participating in clinical trials. The CED policy reflects not only CMS’ cautious approach to new technology, but also the fact that for years there have been no effective treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.
That’s all changed within the last year. A new class of drugs that target amyloid buildup in the brain has begun to receive FDA approval, the most recent being Leqembi from Esai/Biogen in January 2023. And this week, Eli Lilly reported positive results for its amyloid-targeting treatment donanemab (see below), with approval expected by the end of 2023.
The new drugs have changed the game when it comes to diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease:
- PET can now be used to identify eligible patients and monitor their treatment
- Thanks to PET, patients won’t continue to be given expensive drugs after amyloid buildup has been eliminated
- Expanded PET reimbursement could boost the use of PET diagnostic tracers for identifying amyloid buildup
CMS is taking comments on its proposal through August 16. If the agency eliminates the CED policy in favor of a national coverage decision, then decisions on PET reimbursement will be made by local Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs).
This week’s news could be a Pyrrhic victory if PET reimbursement levels are set too low. One positive sign is that CMS has said it also plans to review its policy that bundles radiotracer payments together with scan payments, which tends to depress reimbursement.
The nuclear medicine and molecular imaging community has chafed for years under CMS’ restrictive policies on PET for Alzheimer’s disease, with groups like SNMMI lobbying for the change. This week’s news should have wide-ranging benefits not only for the PET business sector, but also for patients who are facing the scourge of Alzheimer’s disease.