At The Foundry
When Linda O’Boyle was diagnosed with bowel cancer, her doctors told her she could boost her chances of survival by adding the drug cetuximab to her regimen. But the rationing body for Britain’s National Health Service, the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), had previously ruled that the drug was not cost-effective and therefore would not be paid for by the government. So O’Boyle liquidated her savings and paid for the drug herself. But this is not allowed under NHS rules. When government bureaucrats found out that O’Boyle had purchased the drug with her own money, she was denied NHS treatment and died within months.
Defenders of Britain’s health care rationing system may try to claim that this tragic death is an outlier in an otherwise acceptable government run health care system. They are wrong. It is the point of the system. As socialized medicine and infanticide advocate Peter Singer has argued in The New York Times, the NICE bureaucrats must ration care or else free government health care would bankrupt the British economy. “NICE had set a general limit of £30,000, or about $49,000, on the cost of extending life for a year,” Singer writes. Following this logic, Singer supported NICE’s decision not to allow British citizens the kidney cancer fighting drug Sutent. As a result of this, and many other rationing decisions Britain, has one of the lowest cancer survival rates in the Western world. While 60.3% of men and 61.7% of women in Sweden survive a cancer diagnosis, in Britain the figure ranges between 40.2% to 48.1% for men and 48% to 54.1% for women. And NICE’s rationing has not just hit cancer patients. Doctors have warned that patients with terminal illnesses are being made to die prematurely under the NHS rationing scheme. And according to the Patients Association, one million NHS patients have been the victims of appalling care in hospitals across Britain.
Most Americans would find this harrowing. But not President Barack Obama. Yesterday he bypassed the Senate confirmation process and used a recess appointment to install Dr. Donald Berwick to be the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS is the agency that runs the Medicare and Medicaid programs). Dr. Berwick said of Britain’s health care system: “Cynics beware, I am romantic about the National Health Service; I love it.” And his love for Britain’s health care system is not in spite of its rationing, but because of it. In 2009 Dr. Berwick told Biotechnology Healthcare: “NICE is extremely effective and a conscientious and valuable knowledge-building system. … The decision is not whether or not we will ration care – the decision is whether we will ration with our eyes open.”
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