Mazuz draws fire for postponing drug basket expansion

Drug recommendations could be seen as influenced by election considerations, says Mazuz.

drugs 88 (photo credit: )
drugs 88
(photo credit: )
Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz's ruling that the Health Ministry's public committee on the basket of health service withhold its recommendations until after the elections was greeted by an almost unanimous howl of disapproval. The Knesset factions, the Israel Medical Association (IMA), the Health Ministry and patients groups all criticized the decision, which was based on the argument that the recommendations could have been influenced by election campaign considerations. The Justice Ministry spokesman said that the postponement was only until March 29, the day after the election, out of concern that the committee's deliberations would be used as campaign propaganda, and that the Supreme Court had earlier ruled that on the eve of elections, the government's decision-making ability should be limited on non-urgent matters. Asked if opposition to Mazuz's ruling was likely to change his mind, the spokesman said there was no sign of this. The committee chairman, former Health Ministry director-general Prof. Mordechai Shani, defended Mazuz's ruling, arguing that two weeks' delay was not significant, given the fact that the recommendations should have been handed down before the end of 2005, but were delayed because of arguments over how much Treasury money would be added to the basket of medical technologies supplied by the heath funds. The committee was due to have announced on Thursday its recommendations for how to spend the NIS 200 million allocated by the Treasury - half the figure actually allocated in 2005. If the recommendations had been approved, they would have been brought to an urgent meeting of the National Health Council and then to the cabinet. If approved, Health Ministry director-general Prof. Avi Yisraeli would have sent instructions to the four public health funds to provide the new lifesaving drugs to members who have been prescribed them. Many patients currently pay thousands of shekels a month or more on drugs left outside the basket, some of them going into heavy debt and mortgaging their homes. IMA chairman Dr. Yoram Blachar sent a message to Mazuz on Thursday, saying he was shocked to hear that the attorney-general "had been told there was no special urgency" to expand the basket. Blachar said Mazuz must have ruled on the basis of misinformation, as thousands of patients are suffering and at risk of permanent damage to their health due to the delay. Among the drugs proposed for the basket are Erbitux, the very expensive colon cancer drug, and the preventive use of Herceptin to reduce the risk of a return of breast cancer in women who have already been treated for such a tumor. Blachar said the basket committee deliberated in March 2001 during an election campaign, and no one suggested their announcement be postponed. The campaign had no effect on the choice of medical technologies for the list, Blachar maintained. Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin spoke on behalf of all the factions to back up Blachar's arguments and call for the immediate announcement of the subsidized drugs.