IMA denounces foot-dragging on drug basket [pg. 4]

"Patients who are desperately waiting for lifesaving drugs to be included in the basket of health services think this is a burning issue,"

The Israel Medical Association protested on Sunday against the fact that no cabinet meeting was yesterday held to approve the list of medical technologies to be added to the basket of health services - provided by the health funds - that had been recommended on Wednesday by the public committee on expansion of the basket. IMA chairman Dr. Yoram Blachar wrote angry letters to Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Health Minister Ya'acov Edri and Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz. But instead of holding its first post-election meeting the week following the elections, the Prime Minister's Office told Blachar that there was "no burning issue on the agenda" and that no meeting would be held on April 2. The IMA had gone to the High Court of Justice two weeks ago to demand an immediate convening of the basket committee, but the court declined to issue an order for the basket committee to meet before Election Day. Before that, Mazuz issued a ruling saying that the committee session would have to be delayed by a week until after the Knesset elections because the committee's deliberations could be affected by political considerations. "I am sure that patients who are desperately waiting for lifesaving drugs to be included in the basket of health services think this is a burning issue," he said. These patients, he said, "were turned into hostages of the democratic process." He recalled that the High Court of Justice said in its ruling that "we expect the government to deal with the matter in a very short time after the basket committee announces its recommendations." On March 29, the day after Election Day, the basket committee - chaired by Prof. Mordechai Shani - presented a list of drugs for inclusion in the basket. The National Health Council immediately approved the committee's recommendations and urged the expansion of the basket of health services by NIS 466 million - three times the amount that the Treasury had allocated for this purpose in the 2006 budget. The highest on the list were Crestor and Ezetrol (for reducing blood cholesterol); antagonists Ocsaar and Atacand (for hypertension and heart failure in patients who are unable to take ACE inhibitors); slow-release insulins such as Lantus, Levemir, Humalog, Apidra and Novorapid (for diabetics, eliminating previous restrictions); Eloxatin for stage III colorectal cancer and Xeloda (for adjuvant treatment for stage III colorectal cancer); Herceptin as a preventive treatment for the return of breast cancer in suitable women; Hepsera (for hepatitis B); Lexiva (for HIV carriers), Mabthera (for primary follicular non-Hodgkin's lymphoma); and Zyprexa and Seroquel (for second-line treatment of bipolar mental illness). Some of the drugs are meant for as many as 24,000 patients, while others will go to just a few hundred who need them each year.