There is a price for these policies. A study done in 2003 for Britain’s National Health Service found that, long after its approval, more than 1,000 eligible British women with breast cancer were still not receiving Herceptin. Five-year survival for breast cancer caught early in England is 78%, compared to 98% in the U.S.
I’m no fan of universal health care – but have only been familiar with the more common arguments about rationing care – long waits for elective (and other) procedures – but this is the first time I’ve ever seen a statistic like this one – and I think it’s shocking.
260,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in the US this year – 254,800 of them will still be alive in 2012. In the UK only 202,800 of them would have survived – an additional 52,000 deaths over 5 years.
This differential is due largely to the (un) availability of the latest drugs to combat cancer. These drugs are not available because of the large bureaucracies erected to slow introduction and limit use of these new (and expensive) drugs.
Since European drug regulators do not allow new medicines to reach patients until government negotiators have extracted a favorable price from sponsors, cancer drugs are often available in the U.S. months if not years earlier. In 2003, when 31 new drugs were launched worldwide, about 60% were available here months before Europe. Between 1995 and 2001 the 15 cancer drugs approved in Europe and the U.S. took 468 days to reach patients in Europe versus 273 days in America. Herceptin was tangled up in a 550-day approval process as the Europeans fought for a lower price, while the U.S. approved it in fewer than 120 days.
Driving hard bargains also means imposing conditions on who can access new drugs by refusing to pay for many uses, even those approved by world regulatory authorities.