Like so much else, it began with Viagra.
When Pfizer introduced the blue pill in 1998, British health authorities worried it could wreck its budgetary process. It restricted access to the stuff, which prompted a suit claiming the government’s decision was capricious.
That inspired the government to consider a standardized, transparent approach to rationing medical interventions and a year later NICE, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence was born.
Since then, NICE has received acclaim for limiting health care cost escalations and using evidence-based practices to assure that government spending buys the maximum amount of good quality life.
No one thinks this is easy. The British press is filled with heartbreaking stories of people who cannot access effective cancer drugs for example, but NICE responds that permitting these drugs means sacrificing others that are more cost-effective.
For years the British system was the only one to ration care this way, but spiraling health costs and souring economies have changed everything.
Now according to the New York Times, officials in at least 4 countries, Austria, Thailand, Colombia and Brazil say they either rely on NICE’s decisions or want to establish NICE-like institutions of their own.
Can something like NICE work in the US?
Actually, we may have no choice, according to Mike Leavitt, the secretary of health and human services. If we don’t do something to curb spending on health, it “could potentially drag our nation into a financial crisis that makes our subprime mortgage crisis look like a warm summer rain,” he said.