August 20, 2007

US Old Media Virtually Silent As UK Severely Restricts Use of Alzheimer’s Drug

Even as one of them heatedly denies that she advocates “socialized medicine,” it is a fact that each major US presidential candidate on the Democratic side favors some form of nationalized health care. Additionally, while governor of Massachusetts, Republican candidate Mitt Romney was firmly behind health-care legislation that, as commentator John Stossel noted back in May, the Wall Street Journal described as “a death warrant for small business in the Bay State.”

Given its potential as a top-tier 2008 presidential campaign issue, you would think that there would be Old Media interest in how nationalized health care is working out in other countries.

But if there was, you would have surely heard about this news a week ago without having to go to British newspapers to learn of it:

Drug companies and campaigners yesterday lost a high court appeal for people in the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s to be prescribed on the NHS a £2.50-a-day drug (about $5/day in $US — Ed.) which is said to provide relief from the symptoms and respite for families.

….. The ruling means the drug will not be available for people in the earliest stages of the disease, allowing the decision of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), that Aricept’s benefits are too slight to justify prescribing, to stand.

….. Eisai and Pfizer, which make and market Aricept, supported by patient groups, (had) sought a judicial review.

Yesterday, Paul Hooper, managing director of Eisai, said: “The guidance Nice has issued is morally reprehensible. They are denying patients access to early treatment and that is wrong. This is about patients, not profits. For Nice to deny treatment to patients with mild Alzheimer’s disease is disgraceful.”

The Alzheimer’s Society said it was frustrated at the decision.

“Frustrated”? I would characterize the Alzheimer’s Society’s reaction as a bit stronger than that:

However, the result is deeply disappointing for everyone in the early stages of Alzheimer’s and their carers. Without further change to the guidance, people in the early stages of the disease will still be refused drugs because NICE considers that these people are not worth £2.50 a day. This is insulting and devastating news. People will be forced to deteriorate before they get the treatment they need. Is this the sort of society we want to live in?

NICE failed to listen to the views of thousands of carers who told them drug treatments make a huge difference to their lives. It is deeply disturbing that a public body, required to use rigorous standards of evidence based decision making, can simply guess at vital data. This is simply unacceptable.

When NICE speaks it has huge implications for people’s lives. Its decision on Alzheimer’s affects hundreds of thousands of people. NICE must get it right. To retain its authority as a public body it must command the confidence of the public. The result of this case must call into question whether NICE has lost that confidence. It is up to Government to consider the changes needed to stop this from happening again.

Some context:

  • According to this press release written before the high court NICE ruling came down, “700,000 people in the UK have a form of dementia, more than half have Alzheimer’s disease. In less than 20 years nearly a million people will be living with dementia. This will soar to 1.7 million people by 2051. 1 in 5 people over 80 have dementia.” The ruling clearly denies treatment to hundreds of thousands of UK citizens.
  • Aricept (also known as Donezepil) was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, an agency not exactly know for moving quickly, in 199611 years ago — for mild to moderate dementia.
  • The FDA approved the drug for use in cases of severe dementia in October of last year. The NHS/NICE, as noted above, is limiting Aricept’s use to severe cases.
  • This March 2006 Consumer Reports article, written before the FDA’s severe-case approval, designated Aricept one of three Best Buy drugs for people with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease.

Exemplifying NHS’s top-down control, a Nottingham (UK) University Hospital “Medicines Management Report” on “Controlling the Drugs Budget” from two years ago specifically states (in table row C2 near the bottom of the document in the middle column) that doctors are to “Stop all NICE approved prescribing outside guidelines.” So the government, aka the British National Health Service’s supposedly “NICE” guys, is deciding what drugs every one of its millions of patients are allowed to take — purely based on NICE’s, and not the doctor’s or patient’s, cost-benefit considerations. There’s outrage in the US when a managed-care organization attempts to do this in relatively isolated instances.

Given the stringent guideline just noted and the strong cost-control language in the Nottingham report, it’s not unreasonable to believe that doctors will be under severe pressure to defer a diagnosis of severe dementia until the latest possible moment.

Negative government intervention in the doctor-patient relationship has happened in every country that I am aware of where nationalized health care has been imposed. Yet politicians, including many of the 2008 presidential aspirants, continue to pretend that it won’t happen here. It will, and it’s only a question of how quickly it occurs.

As if anyone should be surprised, a New York Times search on “Alzheimer’s” has no articles relating to the UK ruling. A Google News Search on “Alzheimer’s NHS” without quotes, and limited to US sources, shows only one Old Media reference — a CNNMoney.com article that is no longer there.

We don’t hear much from Old Media in the US about how nationalized health care is working elsewhere — because it hasn’t worked elsewhere. It’s hard not to conclude that the coverage of foreign nationalized health care failures is light because exposing the truth would hurt US presidential candidates who favor it.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

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UPDATE: A BizzyBlog blast from the past, encouraged by Joe C’s comment, on how the cost of LASIK eye surgery has dropped like a rock, largely because it’s an uncovered, usually non-insurable procedure. That decline has continued even since the March 2006 date of the post, and I believe some even more innovative procedures have come along that may supplant LASIK. What’s not to like?

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7 Comments

  1. Tom;

    I would throw in the belief that the majority of Republican candidates would go along with some form of national health care also. Besides Romney, one can conclude based upon their track records that Rudy and McCain would. I also think that Huckebee would too. I could be wrong though.

    So with out coming across as a Ron Paul commercial, who does that leave; Hunter, Tancredo and Paul? I would think that this group would not endorse national health care.

    In the end when we consider the disastrous effects of a national health care system, we are not served very well by the GOP or our republican politicians because they are be led down the road to serfdom by the MSM. What bothers me most of all when I read fellow SOB weblogs is that this group is willing to look the other way all for some nebulas belief that somehow they will be “more secure” with Rudy, McCain, or Romney. But how secure are you going to be as a national health care gets implemented along the same model as the post office or AMTRAC?

    What should we be afraid of 50 al-Qaeda Islamist or the enlargement of government as it takes over the full means of health care?

    Comment by Brian — August 20, 2007 @ 1:04 pm

  2. Brian, I think Fred will be against nationalized health care.

    I think Ron Paul had a lot of potential until he played the “let\’s understand them” game with terrorism. I do not think that is spinnable. And anyone looks good on security compared to Hillary and Obama.

    I also do not think that winning the WOT and making the medical system more free-market, not less, are incompatible objectives. The threat of nationalized health care is a serious one, though, that has potential to, among many other bad things, turn euthanasia-lite into national policy virtually undetected.

    Comment by TBlumer — August 20, 2007 @ 1:45 pm

  3. The whole BWC mess was mostly a Democrat operation, except for Noe (whose investments made money) http://www.nationalreview.com/nrof_luskin/luskin200506211013.asp . This fact was completely whitewashed by the legacy media during the campaigns.

    Comment by Joe C. — August 20, 2007 @ 2:31 pm

  4. Imagine the whole health care system working like the market for Lasik surgery – 30% drop in price, >90% consumer satisfaction – all because of minimal third-party and government intervention (http://www.nationalcenter.org/Z022107=Health_Care_Blog_Markets.html).
    Believe me, as the rest of the world has seen, the more government is involved in health care, the cost, quality, and satisfaction all go down together.

    Comment by Joe C. — August 20, 2007 @ 2:44 pm

  5. #3 & #4, I saw Luskin’s entry during the past 30 days or so as I absorbed the reality of Coingate.

    I did a post on Lasik a while ago that you motivated me to find and add as an update.

    Comment by TBlumer — August 20, 2007 @ 2:53 pm

  6. [...] From Bizzy Blog: [...]

    Pingback by High CSQ » Blog Archive » Another example to show government furnished health care may not be the best idea — August 21, 2007 @ 2:54 am

  7. To add to point #5, look at the whole industry of cosmetic surgery. Prices have come down and the specialization of the procedures have improved, all without government interference. Sure there are some problems one would see on 20/20, but overall the industry has fewer problems than the main stream medical community.

    As for point #2, I’ll refrain from commenting only not to detract from the central thread. But I disagree and can explain at another time.

    Comment by Brian — August 21, 2007 @ 12:22 pm

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