Health basket panel head calls for doubling annual increase

Halevy: If the public system doesn’t cover vital drugs, I will certainly consider buying private insurance.

Pills (photo credit: INGIMAGE / ASAP)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE / ASAP)
Prof. Jonathan Halevy, chairman of the Health Basket Committee, on Tuesday called to double the annual increase to the budget of the basket.
Speaking at a Tel Aviv Pharma-Israel conference, Halevy, who is also director-general of Shaare Zedek Medical Center, said that doubling the annual increase from NIS 300 million – where it has been set by the Treasury for the past three years – to NIS 600 million can improve the healthcare situation “tremendously” by covering more of the cost of medical technologies provided to Israelis.
“I think that the dilemma we’ve had in recent years about [cancer] drugs that extend life for two or three months will also occur regarding drugs that enable patients to live six months to a year longer if the basket doesn’t grow [by more than just NIS 300 million]. But even if this does occur, important drugs will still remain outside the basket.”
The basket includes all of the drugs and medical technologies that the Treasury, via the four health funds, subsidizes. The committee consists of doctors, medical ethicists, Treasury and Health Ministry officials, health fund executives, and public representatives who volunteer for the job every year.
The Treasury alone decides how much the basket will expand, instead of enacting an automatic annual increase. Halevy, who has said that heading the committee has been one of the most challenging and interesting posts he has ever held, told The Jerusalem Post that he would recommend an automatic increase, but he doubts that Finance Ministry officials would forgo their decisionmaking power.
He added that while most of the relevant life-saving drugs are for treating cancers, additional medications and technologies to address a variety of other diseases should be added to the basket.
On an optimistic note, Halevy, an internal medicine and liver specialist by training, said he hoped that manufacturers and importers of drugs that can cure the often-fatal hepatitis C will lower their prices so that more carriers of the virus will be eligible for treatment.
“Members of the committee have been forced to give up on certain technologies that everyone felt were important to fight for,” Halevy added.
Asked whether he himself has private medical insurance, or if not, whether he planned to get such a policy, the veteran medical administrator said: “I have not needed private insurance so far, but if the public system doesn’t cover vital drugs, I will certainly consider buying private insurance. But I don’t believe that will happen.”
Asked whether he supported the position of Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman to restore life-saving drugs not in the basket to the public health funds’ supplementary health insurance policies, Halevy said, “Rabbi Litzman has proven himself as one who finds solutions to impossible problems. If he succeeds in adding life-saving drugs to supplementary policies and makes sure that the poor who have no such coverage get them too, he will indeed prove that he has a magic touch.”
Edith Chernovich, director-general of Pharma-Israel (an organization of local research- and development- based pharmaceutical companies) said, “We are at a dramatic stage in the development of original drugs. Pharmaceutical innovation creates drugs that treat and cure patients, saving lives and significantly improving quality of life. To keep up with the pace of development, there is no choice but to update the basket by 2 percent each year, as is customary in developed countries with public health systems.”
Economy Minister Arye Deri said at the conference that the country can turn into a Silicon Valley in the field of pharmaceuticals. “The government gave me the responsibility for preparing a plan for the development of the north within six months, and we regard the pharmaceutical field as one of the building blocks of this program.”
There is a problem with bureaucracy and irrelevant legislation, notes Deri. “Too much regulation can deter companies from carrying out clinical trials. We will deal with this.”
US Ambassador Dan Shapiro reported that he has held many meetings with officials from US pharmaceutical companies that operate out of Israel. “They will continue to regard Israel as a partner and be active here,” he said. “They will continue to expand the number of their employees here. We are pleased that they are here, but there are regulatory challenges that prevent them from expanding more.”