Last-minute deal grows health basket
The cabinet yesterday approved a budgetary supplement of NIS 310 million for 15 new medications to be added to the 2006 "health basket" of medications and medical treatments. These medications will help an estimated 70,000 people.
The sum falls between the NIS 200 million cap the treasury wanted and the NIS 467 million that the Health Ministry committee on the health basket had requested. The final figure was determined in a last-minute compromise between senior ministry officials. The committee had recommended that a total of 25 medications be added to the health basket.
The government decision will go into effect May 15.
However Herceptin, an antibody for the treatment of metastatic breast cancer, will be approved for use by about 350 high-risk patients only after it is officially registered as an approved medication in Israel. This will happen no earlier than August, Health Ministry officials said. Herceptin, which was the subject of a major public battle, will not be approved for use by an additional 235 women who are not at high risk.
Other medications added to the health basket will treat some 24,000 people with high blood pressure, 10,000 diabetes patients, 5,000 people with manic depression, 3,000 stroke victims and hundreds of AIDS patients.
Some 8,000 patients will not receive the medications that the Health Ministry committee determined are essential to their health. These patients include some 5,000 people with heart problems who need anti-coagulant medication and are unable to undergo catheterization procedures, 1,000 people who need pain medication, 670 children who require growth hormones and 300 bone cancer patients.
Prime Minister-designate Ehud Olmert told the cabinet yesterday that the compromise agreement that precipitated yesterday's decision will allow the government to respond appropriately to demands for new medications while taking the treasury's capacity into account.
"It is never possible to provide a complete response to everything people want and for everything that is liable to arise, but it appears to us that this is a worthy proposal," Olmert said. "Herceptin will be included as part of the compromise. I hope that we are taking a significant and important step for the benefit of many sick people in the State of Israel, whom we want with all our hearts to help and for whom we are obligated to make medications available so that they will get better."
Health Minister Yaakov Edri said he was satisfied with the government decision. He suggested that the health basket be increased every year by a set amount of money linked to the consumer price index, so that the battle waged over the health basket in the last few months would not be repeated once a year. Edri also promised to bring down the cost of medications not included in the health basket by up to 50 percent, and said the price-slashing would take place shortly.
The chairman of the health basket committee, Prof. Mordechai Shani, who had threatened to resign if the government did not approve the full amount the committee requested, said yesterday that the compromise was reasonable.
However, Dr. Yoram Belsher, chairman of the Israeli doctors' union, said the government decision constituted a victory for the Finance Ministry.
"The treasury's budget unit can celebrate its victory over the patients," he said. He also criticized the government's decision to allow women to take Herceptin only after it is officially registered as an approved medication in Israel, saying its effectiveness in treating breast cancer has already been proven beyond doubt.