Xavier Becerra
HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra

A cost overestimate that bumped up Medicare premiums for seniors in 2022 will not be corrected until the following year, U.S. health secretary Xavier Becerra announced Friday.

The increase raised Medicare’s monthly Part B premium by about $22 to $170.10, a jump largely due to coverage of the recently approved Alzheimer’s drug aducanumab (Aduhelm). Drugmaker Biogen subsequently cut the drug’s original $56,000 cost per patient in half, prompting Becerra in January to order a review of the premium hike.

There are too many “legal and operational hurdles” to make any premium changes in midstream 2022, according to a Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services reevaluation of the cost hike, Becerra said in a statement. That means beneficiaries will see cost savings from lower-than-expected Medicare Part B spending on Aduhelm in 2023, he said.

“We had hoped to achieve this [savings] sooner, but CMS explains that the options to accomplish this would not be feasible,” he stated. “CMS and HHS are committed to lowering health care costs – so we look forward to seeing this Medicare premium adjustment across the finish line to ensure seniors get their cost-savings in 2023.”

Becerra’s original request to make a change to premiums once the plan year has started is unusual, medical news outlet Stat has reported. But some patient and research advocates said Becerra’s move was appropriate, and criticized CMS’s linking of a premium increase to a new disease treatment.

The FDA approved Aduhelm in 2021 under a cloud of controversy over its efficacy, soaring cost and accessibility. The drug is a monoclonal antibody designed to target beta amyloid plaques in the brain — a telltale sign of Alzheimer’s.

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