Fifty-two new medicines and technologies will be added to the "health basket" of treatments covered by the national health insurance plan, including hearing aids, baby vaccines and new cancer drugs. But drugs for depression and anxiety were left out, as were treatments for Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's and multiple sclerosis.
Altogether, the committee entrusted with making the decision received proposals for adding 430 new treatments, at a total annual cost of NIS 1.5 billion. But since the basket's annual budget is only NIS 300 million, only 52 could be added.
Coverage of all the new treatments will begin two weeks after the committee's recommendations are approved by the Health Council and the cabinet.
For the first time, the state will finance the full cost of the cheapest type of hearing aid for some 20,000 senior citizens over age 65. Currently, it chips in NIS 850 per device, but it will now pay NIS 3,000, with the goal of ensuring that hearing aids are no longer reserved for the well-off.
It will also pay to vaccinate some 160,000 babies against rotavirus.
National insurance will now cover taking patients to the hospital by helicopter when necessary, except in the case of traffic accidents, when the car insurance companies are supposed to pay. This program is expected to cost some NIS 4 million a year.
A new method for checking blood sugar levels that does not involve drawing blood was added to the basket for children and pregnant women suffering from juvenile diabetes, but not for other adults.
Several new cancer drugs were added to the basket: Avastin, for brain tumors; Doxil, Myocet and Faslodex for breast and ovarian cancer; Jevtana for prostate cancer; and Yondelis for sarcoma. But in light of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's recommendation to stop giving Avastin to breast cancer patients, the drug has been removed from the basket for that purpose.
New treatments for strengthening the heart following a catheterization were also added, including physical training supervised by a nurse and nutritional advice. These are expected to benefit some 2,800 people a year.
All the psychiatric drugs on the list - including the latest treatments for schizophrenia and Cipralex for depression and anxiety - were eliminated in the final round of cuts. Ritalin for adults was also excluded.
Gilenya, a new drug for multiple sclerosis, was left out, mainly because of its expense, which can reach NIS 10,000 per patient. Because it is taken in pill form rather than as a shot, the drug has provided stiff competition for existing medications, to the dismay of the firms that make them - including Israeli giant Teva.
Ultrasounds for pregnant woman aimed specifically at checking for Down's Syndrome were left out as well. But a treatment to let women with cancer freeze their ova, thereby ensuring that they can still have children if they so desire, was included. Until now, the basket only covered freezing sperm for fertility purposes, because the technology for freezing eggs has only been perfected in the last two years.
The most expensive new drugs added were both for rare diseases: Ilaris for CAPS, which costs NIS 181,000 per patient and is expected to be used on exactly eight people, and Firdapse for LEMS, which will treat six people.
Various new treatments for healing wounds that have refused to close were also included, and these are expected to help some 4,000 patients a year.
But a new osteoporosis drug, Protelos, was omitted.
While the committee's decisions obviously left many people unhappy, the decision to pay for helicopter evacuations elicited particular criticism, including from some of the panel's own members as well as a disappointed patient. MK Rachel Adatto (Kadima ), a physician, summed up the objection as follows: Essentially, the committee is taking money that is supposed to fund drugs and using it to pay for helicopter fuel.
Adatto also protested the inclusion of the rotavirus vaccine, saying this should have been funded under a different Health Ministry program. The vaccine was included at the specific request of the ministry's director general.
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