Rarely are so few asked to do so much with so little for the benefit of so many, who are ungrateful. That’s how I would describe Pharmac’s calling. Today’s Sunday Star Times spends an inordinate amount of column inches discussing the challenges Pharmac faces. Or does it?
The unattributed comment piece on A11, “Pharmac’s $635 million bitter pill” does a reasonable job of pointing out the crap position Pharmac will always be in and a few of the challenges that the National government faces. However, it only slaps National’s hand in passing for their blatant election pandering:
Women with early stage breast cancer who stand to benefit from the more expensive treatment will be delighted, but this piecemeal political intervention is not the best basis for consistent or rational health policy.
The cynical herceptin intervention cuts into Pharmac’s core reason for being. Such a precedent undermines the entire point of having an independent body such as Pharmac and leaves one questioning whether or not National cares at all and whether it would be willing to trade away Pharmac in an effort to secure a trade deal with the US. This is one of the key US demands.
In the Focus section, two whole pages are dedicated to discussing Pharmac, or so it appears. What we really have is one big pharmaceutical advertisement entitled “10 drugs you can’t have“. We have 8 column inches setting up the info-mercial and then a further 48 column inches advertising drugs that the big pharma companies really want the National government to fund. It’s disgusting.
I cynically searched the rest of the paper for the drug company adverts that would pay for such a plum bit of lobbying, but could find none. My conspiratorial nose then thought that a deal could have been struck to advertise later in exchange for the plum article. But I’m not much for conspiracies. I find that people are far too lazy in general to plot and hatch conspiracies. It then became obvious. The article itself was an infomercial. I know that Adam Dudding is a long standing journalist who has done the rounds, but I have to ask Adam; Did some nice PR company write the last 48 column inches for you? You failed Adam, you failed to ask the really important questions of anyone.
The folks at Pharmac do a thankless job. No doubt they make decisions and yes, make mistakes, that cost people their hope of a longer life. One cannot say that Pharmac’s decisions cost lives. They are in the business of postponing death at least cost to the taxpayer, not causing it.
One could argue that New Zealand should fund it’s drugs at the same level as our nearest neighbours, that is at 18% of the health budget rather than 12%. One could argue that big pharma should not be allowed to advertise to the public, which is the norm in every other country in the world except the USA and NZ. Finally, one could argue that a separate slush fund should be created for the bleeding heart cases and yes, even for the kind of blatant political interference that National promised during the election. But who would argue that Pharmac, in principle, is a bad idea? Who would trade it away for ideological reasons?