New Zealand News from The Press - Tuesday, May 23, 2000
by Kathryn McNeil
Multiple sclerosis patients at last have the news they have been waiting for.
MS patients should be able to access the drug beta-interferon next month.
Health Minister Annette King confirmed yesterday beta-interferon will be funded for 180 patients, about 50 people more than had been expected.
Funding the drug, which costs about $20,000 a person a year, was one of Mrs King's first commitments on Labour's election to Government last year.
After initial discussions with Pharmac and neurologists, funding had been expected to be approved for about 130 patients, she said.
"But Pharmac has now formally approved funding to cover 180 patients who are expected to meet eligibility criteria."
Both the brands of beta-interferon - Avonex and Betaferon - would be fully subsidised, Mrs King said.
While in Opposition Mrs King fought to have the drug fully subsidised, but the National-led Government would not budge.
"The previous Government failed to listen to compelling evidence to fund this treatment - we were one of only two countries in the world not to do so," she said.
Pharmac general manager Wayne McNee said the drug should be available in June.
Pharmac was organising distribution of the drug to make it easier to access for people with MS who lived in rural areas or who were disabled, Mr McNee said.
"It is proposed that initially the drugs will be dispatched by the patient's
appointed clinician, a GP or a specialist, but once the patient is confident
with the treatment, the drug can be sent directly to them," he said.