'Basket committee' to reconvene to discuss additional drugs

The Health Ministry's advisory committee on expanding the basket of health services will meet again on June 29 to set its priorities for an additional NIS 233 million after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert decided to cancel his plans to change the committee members this year, committee chairman Prof. Mordechai Shani told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. Ra'anan Dinur, director-general of the Prime Minister's Office, sent a letter to Shani requesting that the committee meet again to set new priorities, including a discussion of the request to include Erbitux and Avastin - drugs that extend the lives of patients with advanced colon cancer. A couple of weeks ago, Shani threatened to resign and colleagues refused to deliberate when Olmert said he wanted members replaced. Anonymous Health Ministry officials charged that the prime minister was keen on allowing Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson and Treasury officials to control the committee. Health Minister Ya'acov Ben-Yizri sent a letter to the basket committee on Monday afternoon saying that he and the government "have full faith in you" and asked them to recommend new drugs for inclusion in the basket as soon as possible. Ben-Yizri said he wanted to present the recommendations to the cabinet no later than July 31. Shani said it would take three or four meetings to decide, and that he had already convened senior oncologists to discuss cancer drugs, including those for which colon cancer patients went on a hunger strike outside the Knesset for 15 days. The government agreed to add more to the basket, but it also declared that in 2007 the basket would not be expanded at all. But Shani told the Post that it was impossible to predict whether that would in fact be the case, as there are always pressures on the health system for expansion. Shani said he wanted to change the committee's structure and have three parts - a larger medical committee, an economic committee and a committee of public representatives and ethicists. At present, there is a 21-member committee combining all such representatives.