NICE garners new fans--and new critics

The U.K.'s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence may be the healthcare business's favorite love-to-hate-it institution. The agency analyzes drugs and other treatments for their cost-effectiveness, and sometimes it makes decisions that patients find cold-blooded, to say the least.

And pharma often agrees, often for its own cold-blooded reasons: If NICE rules against a medication, then the National Health Service doesn't pay for it, and a huge potential market is lost. Not to mention the fact that other governments often watch NICE's decisions and tailor their own drug reimbursements accordingly.

As the U.S. looks to be mulling a version of this cost-effectiveness analysis, in an attempt to rein in wildly out-of-control healthcare costs, NICE is getting an entirely new group of critics. But it's also getting a fair number of admirers as well. Jim Edwards at BNet scoffs at all the hand-wringing over NICE's initial rejection of costly kidney cancer treatments, saying that the refusal actually did what it was supposed to: the makers of those treatments now are cutting their prices.

Meanwhile, the New York Times boils down NICE's role--and the role of any imitators--to one question: How much is life worth? That's not the sort of question Americans are accustomed to asking. So what do you think? Is NICE a cold-hearted bean counter? Or the sort of gatekeeper today's healthcare requires?

- read the post at BNet
- check out the WSJ Health Blog's take
- see the article in the NYT