Health basket on hold until after election

The public committee that considers additions to the basket of health services will not convene until after the national election, following a directive from Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz saying the panel's decisions could have been affected by political considerations. The committee, headed by former Health Ministry director-general Prof. Mordechai Shani, had been scheduled to release its recommendations Thursday on how to spend the NIS 200 million allocated by the Treasury for additions to the services. The basket of health services consists of drugs and technologies paid for by the health funds. Usually the committee makes its recommendations to the ministry, which presents its decisions to the cabinet before the end of each calendar year, to take effect in the following year. In 2004, delays in deciding the size of the allocation prevented the committee from meeting. Patients‚ groups desperate for expensive, lifesaving drugs and pharmaceutical companies have been lobbying government officials, journalists and others concerned with the issue for several months. Now the 24-member committee will have to wait until after March 28. Health Minister Ya'acov Edri said Wednesday night that he regretted Mazuz's ruling, because "patients are desperately waiting for drugs they cannot afford." At the same time, Edri said, "we accept the attorney-general's decision." The Israel Medical Association, which is represented on the committee, reacted angrily to the postponement, saying Mazuz's ruling was apparently based on "misconceptions." Mazuz's office said Shani had told him a two-week delay would be of no major consequence, as the recommendations had already been delayed by several months.