Public health care payer organizations face increasing pressures to make transparent and sustainable coverage decisions about ever more expensive prescription drugs, suggesting a need for public engagement in coverage decisions. However, little is known about countries' approaches to integrating public preferences in existing funding decisions. The aim of this study was to describe how Belgium and New Zealand used deliberative processes to engage the public and to identify lessons learned from these countries' approaches.
To describe two countries' deliberative processes, we first reviewed key country policy documents and then conducted semi-structured interviews with five leaders of the processes from Belgium and New Zealand. We assessed each country's rationales for and approaches to engaging the public in pharmaceutical coverage decisions and identified lessons learned. We used qualitative content analysis of the interviews to describe key themes and subthemes.
In both countries, the national public payer organization initiated and led the process of integrating public preferences into national coverage decision making. Reimbursement criteria considered outdated and changing societal expectations prompted the change. Both countries chose a deliberative process of public engagement with a multi-year commitment of many stakeholders to develop new reimbursement processes. Both countries' new reimbursement processes put a stronger emphasis on quality of life, the separation of individual versus societal perspectives, and the importance of final reimbursement decisions being taken in context rather than based largely on cost-effectiveness thresholds.
To face the growing financial pressure of sustainable funding of medicines, Belgium's and New Zealand's public payers have developed processes to engage the public in defining the reimbursement system's priorities. Although these countries differ in context and geographic location, they came up with overlapping lessons learnt which include the need for 1) political commitment to initiate change, 2) broad involvement of all stakeholders, and 3) commitment of all to engage in a long-term process. To evaluate these changes, further research is required to understand how coverage decisions in systems with and without public engagement differ.