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Lessons to Learn From the NICE Cancer Care Model

Evidence-Based OncologyJuly 2016
Volume 22
Issue SP10

On the first day of the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, healthcare experts from the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, compared and contrasted the care models that are widely adopted in each nation.

On the first day of the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, held June 3-7, 2016, in Chicago, IL, healthcare experts from the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, compared and contrasted the care models that are widely adopted in each nation. Placing a significant emphasis on reviewing the value of cancer care, panelists discussed how the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) in the United Kingdom, and the Canadian healthcare model, seek to optimize the cost and value of cancer care. Panelists also identified opportunities for constructive interventions that could help fill existing gaps in the US healthcare system.

United States

Susan Rogers, MD, FACP, Stroger Hospital of Cook County, Physicians for a National Health Program, introduced the US healthcare system during her talk, Perverse Incentives and Broken Markets: How Did We Get Here and How Do We Correct It?

Rogers posed the question, “Why do we need a single payer?” But, before trying to answer that question, she explained why health insurance is so important. Rogers said that insuring against health:

  • Protects financial assets
  • Improves access to care
  • Protects health

“The United States has 5 health delivery systems,” Rogers said, listing them as:

  1. Medicare
  2. Medicaid
  3. Private insurance offered to workers where they have to contribute to the premium
  4. Healthcare for Native Americans, vets, and the military, provided and delivered by the government (socialized medicine)
  5. Healthcare for the uninsured

“We are spending a lot of money on healthcare. The US public spending per capita for health is greater than the total spending in other nations,” Rogers said, with accompanying slides showing that US spends significantly greater than the highest amount spent by other developing countries. She emphasized that the increased spending does not guarantee improved outcomes, such as an improvement in the infant mortality rate or improved longevity.

So how can we improve access to better healthcare? Rogers pointed out that employment alone does not guarantee health benefits because a lot of employers prefer part-time employees, who then do not qualify for health benefits. With Medicaid expansion following the Affordable Care Act (ACA), there was hope that disparities in access to healthcare would be addressed. But it was not to be. “If half the physicians are not participating in Medicaid managed care plans, how can patients access care with those doctors?” Rogers asked. Despite the provisions within ACA, the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that 30 million will remain uninsured in 2016 and the number will hover around 29 million until 2019.1

The ACA has not really helped the US population, Rogers said, because a standard benefits package was not developed under the ACA—so many services are not covered by the health plan till the enrollee meets the target deductible amount. Copays and coinsurance were eliminated for enrollees, but only for preventive services and annual wellness visits. “ACA makes underinsurance the norm,” she said. With the average deductibles steadily rising, from $300 in 2006 to $1077 in 2015, medical bankruptcies are significantly higher, especially among cancer patients, Rogers pointed out.

Voting for a Single-Payer System

Rogers is a big proponent of a single-payer system—she believes it presents several advantages that private plans do not offer. When a person seeks care at a site, some of the providers may not be in-network, and so when the patients use those services, they may end up being very expensive, according to Rogers. “A single-payer system, on the other hand, will remove provider restrictions and improve access and choice for all.”

While it might cost more to cover everyone (she showed an estimate of $243 billion), a single- payer system can be kept funded by eliminating discrepancies in service costs, reducing administrative costs, reducing drug prices via negotiations, and by introducing a payroll tax instead of a deduction.

Belgium was the first developed country to introduce a government-backed universal health insurance, back in 1945. Subsequently, several countries in Europe, and in Asia, followed suit.

“ACA is based on private insurance and will not be able to solve patient access issues,” Rogers said. “A single payer will be the only insurance plan that can allow cost control, provide access, and provide better choice.”

United Kingdom

David J. Kerr, MD, PhD, University of Oxford, who chaired the panel, serves on the advisory board of the National Health Services, Scotland. Kerr began his talk, Across the Pond: Learning from the U.K. Experience, by sharing the definition of “value” by Michael Porter, MD, which says that value should be defined around the consumer, not the supplier. Patient performance, not the volume of services provided, is important when considering the value of a service.

Kerr listed several enemies of better value cancer care:

  • Unwarranted variation
  • Inequalities in care
  • Inadequate focus on prevention
  • Waste of resources
  • Patient harm even with high-quality care

From the societal perspective, “We have an increase in demand and increased burden, with an ageing population. Each medical advance is hailed as ‘breakthrough,’ which raises the hope of patients and caregivers,” Kerr said. He added that our current health models have a demand of transparency and openness from patients and caregivers, but there have been financial constraints imposed by global recession.

Additionally, healthcare spending is burdened with treating conditions that were previously untreatable, and patients who were previously untreatable. Expensive treatments, Kerr emphasized, are a sum total of expensive drugs, expensive services such as complicated surgery, expensive imaging, and expensive tests.

Kerr explained that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guides clinical practice (pathways of care), public health, and HTA decisions. NICE, Kerr said, abides by the following core values:

  • Input from the public, advocacy groups, and caregivers
  • Transparent process and decision making
  • Consultation
  • Regular review

Outcomes data that NICE considers when making decisions include cost-benefit, clinical benefit, cost-effectiveness ratio, and health benefit (measured in terms of quality-adjusted life-years or QALY).

Kerr then highlighted several approaches that NICE has proposed to curb the rising cost of cancer drugs:

  • Reduce clinical trial costs by 40% to 60% without reducing their quality.
  • Greater use of adaptive design techniques to reduce trial duration and the number of patients needed.
  • Data requirements by regulatory bodies should be challenged by oncologists and patient advocacy groups.
  • Drug costs should be challenged by oncologists and patient advocacy groups.


North of the Border: Harnessing Market Forces, Deregulation, and Consumer Choice in Canada, was the title of the presentation by Ralph Wong, MD, FRCPC, CancerCare Manitoba. Wong explained what works and what does not with the publicly funded single-payer system in Canada. “The Canada Health Act of 1984 says that all insured are entitled to the same level of healthcare,” Wong shared, adding that the outcome is debatable. “Individual provinces and territories in Canada have their own agenda, which can result in unequal distribution of healthcare,” he said.

The drug approval process can take as much as 2 years in Canada, Wong said, adding that Health Canada needs much longer than the FDA to approve a drug, “although we are at par with the EMA [European Medicines Agency].” Wong said the fact that Canada’s market is much smaller is a likely reason that drug developers wait to seek approval.

Health Technology Assessment in Canada

The pan-Canadian Oncology Drug Review (pCODR), established in 2010, conducts the health technology assessment (HTA) for Canada. pCODR offers manufacturers and tumor groups the option of a review before submitting for a Notice of Compliance (NOC) with Health Canada. The HTA review and the NOC can run in parallel.

pCODR has been documented to recommend 65% of submissions, 14% may or may not be approved, and 21% are usually denied funding. “It’s important to note, however, that oral medications do stand a chance of being paid for by a private insurer. Intravenous infusions could also be funded by private insurers sometimes,” Wong said.

While a significant reduction in the number of days needed for approval has been observed, there is criticism of the overall process. Wong revealed that territorial or provincial governments are ultimate decision makers on when “no means no”, but “yes could mean maybe.” Additionally, decisions could sometimes be inconsistent.


Following pCODR, the Pan Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance, or pCPA, then reviews the application for cost-effectiveness via a process that involves negotiations with the drug developer to reduce drug costs. “Only those provinces that participate in the negotiations can claim the discounted rate. But a substantial amount of savings have been noted—C$ 400 million annually for oncology drugs,” he said.


  1. Congressional Budget Office. Updated estimates of the insurance coverage provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Congressional Budget Office website. https://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/114th-congress-2015-2016/reports/49892/49892-breakout-AppendixB.pdf. Accessed June 3, 2016.
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