The U.S. government is set to decide this month whether federal health insurance should cover the cost of a $3,000 test that for the first time accurately identifies the signature brain plaques of Alzheimer’s disease.
A lot is riding on the decision. Those in favor of coverage say the brain scan will reduce anguish and lower medical costs for families struggling to determine appropriate care for a relative suffering from memory loss. What’s more, the test could help create a broad base of early Alzheimer’s patients for research purposes, they say. Opponents counter that coverage would be a waste of money because Alzheimer’s remains an incurable disease and knowing whether a person has the disease is of little or no benefit.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if this decision went in either direction,” said Sean Tunis, the founder and director of the Center for Medical Technology Policy in Baltimore. “The science on this one is so early, so it’s hard to make a case from a clinical point of view that the diagnosis will make a difference. It will tilt on political dynamics more than the science.”
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