Health basket to get 90 new drugs

After months of delay, committee approves new 2008 services at a cost of NIS 450 million.

yaakov ben-yizri 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
yaakov ben-yizri 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Some 160,000 Israelis are expected to benefit from new medications that a public committee appointed by the Health Ministry has recommended adding to the existing government health basket. On Tuesday, the 16-member body chaired by former dean of Tel Aviv University's medical school, Prof. Menahem Fainaru, presented its list to Health Minister Ya'acov Ben-Yizri, who will present it to the National Health Council on Thursday and then to the cabinet for final approval on Sunday. The recommended list comprises some 90 new medications and other medical technologies. The list - which would cost the Treasury NIS 450 million this year - earned congratulations from some patients groups and complaints from other organizations. Some of the medications are not new, but the committee recommended that they be given at state expense for additional medical indications. Due to disputes between the Health and Finance Ministries, the committee was only appointed in October, and patients waited two months beyond the original deadline to obtain the subsidized drugs. As a result, the Finance Ministry decided not to pay the nearly NIS 500m. it had agreed to, because the first two months of the year had been lost. However, the total subsidy will be NIS 450m., Health Ministry deputy director-general Chezi Levy said. The Treasury and Health Ministries agreed last year that this sum would be allocated annually through 2010. Ben-Yizri praised the "devoted work" of the committee chairman and its members and asked them to serve on a committee due to recommend additions to the 2009 basket, which must finish its work by December 31, 2008. However, the Health Ministry has failed to persuade the Treasury to update the basket automatically by about two percent each year - a step recommended by most health experts but opposed by Treasury budget officials. Israel Medical Association chairman Dr. Yoram Blachar, a member of the previous health basket committee, congratulated the new committee for completing its recommendations. Blachar, who established a forum to influence the basket committee's deliberations and pressure the state to expand available subsidies, said that the official committee's list was quite similar to the one his forum had proposed. Nevertheless, he insisted, the list lacked many vital medications for conditions such as colon cancer, asthma, and blindness prevention. The Israel Parkinson's Disease Association expressed its regret that the committee had not recommended Azilect and other medications that could greatly improve Parkinson's patients' quality of life. One in Nine, which advocates for women with breast cancer, strongly criticized the committee's failure to add drugs for the treatment of metastatic breast tumors. Committee member Rabbi Yuval Cherlow told The Jerusalem Post that he was "exhausted physically and mentally" by the process of setting priorities. Cherlow said, however, that he was pleased with the list, although he wished more money had been available. Cherlow invested in his committee work not only 18 morning-to-evening workday sessions, but also long hours reading letters and e-mails from patients and learning about the drugs. None of the committee members has been paid anything - even expenses. "It was an intense experience, and I learned a lot about medicine and running health systems. It was a privilege to help people," he said. The rabbi, a Jewish ethics expert, added that the previous committee, which comprised nearly three dozen members, was much too large. He also said he strongly opposed the Treasury's move to prohibit the four public health funds from offering drugs outside the official basket to members who purchase supplementary health insurance policies. "Commercial health insurance companies are the big winners," Cherlow said. He added that he was glad that Fainaru had allowed press to attend committee meetings, even though no member could be quoted. This helped reduce leaks, eliminate intrigues and minimize the power of lobbyists, Cherlow said. The new health basket includes Remicade (for ulcerative colitis); Lantus and Levamir insulins (for 7,500 diabetics); Plavix (to prevent clots in heart attack victims for 12 months instead of three, for some 10,000 patients); Enbrel, Humira, Amevive and Raptiva (for 500 psoriasis patients); Femara, Doxil, Sutent, Aromasin, Arimidex, Taxotere, Temodal and other drugs (for more than 1,000 solid-cancer patients); Glivec and Mabthera for new indications for hemato-oncology patients; Tysabri, Lyrica and Cymbalta (for more than 18,000 with neurological diseases); Lustral, Geodon, Ixel and Serdolect for psychiatric diseases; Sensipar (for kidney disease); Seretide and Spiriva for more than 40,000 patients with asthma and other respiratory diseases); Oflox (for some 53,000 patients with eye disorders); and an electronic device that will enable victims of throat cancer to speak.