Canadian paper bites on pharma-funded advocacy

A Vancouver Sun story is a good example of an imbalanced story that fails to address health policy issues with context and completeness. The story reports on an advocacy group report and, in so doing, takes a flawed advocacy stance itself.

The story begins: “Cancer patients are increasingly having to pay for important new drugs administered in public hospitals, the latest symptom of Canada’s inconsistent and often inadequate funding of cancer treatment, an advocacy group reported Monday.”

The story says, “One breakthrough leukemia drug is paid for by just a single province, (British Columbia).” The story didn’t explain what qualifies as a breakthrough.

Then the story dipped into the language that is usually used when cost-effectiveness decisions are made by government officials – “rationing.” The story says, ” ‘Essentially, we will continue to ration life-saving cancer treatment, and some Canadians will live and some will die simply because of where they live,’ said the report.”

Late in the story, it finally disclosed that the advocacy group was financed largely by pharmaceutical companies.

The report also looked at the availability of PET (positron emission tomography) scans and mammograms for cancer patients, raising questions about what the report said was underuse of the two technologies.

But overuse of PET and other scanning technologies is generally a bigger concern than underuse. And who’s to say that women aren’t choosing to forego mammography after weighing the evidence? The story certainly didn’t look into that possibility.

Journalists will not contribute to a meaningful discussion on health care reform if they take the party line of a pharma-funded advocacy group as gospel.

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