Advising on and clarifying the contents of the standard health care benefit package
Zorginstituut Nederland (National Health Care Institute) ensures a well-balanced basic health care package, so that we pay collectively only for care that actually works.
Good health is precious. This is why every person in the Netherlands is statutorily insured for health care costs. The Health Insurance Act (Zorgverzekeringswet, Zvw) and the Long-term Care Act (Wet langdurige zorg, Wlz) describe which care this basic insurance covers. The cover provided by these two laws is referred to as the basic health care package.
Because these are statutory forms of insurance for which everyone pays premiums and taxes, the government must ensure that the basic package includes care that is necessary and that works. At the same time the government must ensure that health care is, and remains, accessible and affordable. As an independent organization in the field of determining the contents of the basic package, Zorginstituut Nederland plays an important role in safeguarding these requirements.
Care that works
In order to be included in the basic package, care must, above all, be effective: evidence must show that care does what it is meant to. This is a statutory requirement. In general, care is automatically included if its effectiveness has been proven. This does not apply to pharmacy-supplied medicines. These are only included in the basic package after the Zorginstituut has issued positive advice and the Minister of Public Health, Welfare and Sport (VWS) has converted that advice into a positive decision.
When new treatment is involved, uncertainty may exist about whether it is sufficiently effective. In such cases the Zorginstituut acts as a ‘referee’ and issues a so-called assessment outcome. Health insurers may only reimburse such treatment under the basic insurance if the Zorginstituut has issued a positive assessment outcome.
Assessment outcomes always involve a treatment–disorder combination. This may mean that treatment is reimbursed for one disorder but not for another, simply because the treatment’s effectiveness has not been proven for the other disorder.
Zorginstituut Nederland also acts as an adviser, both regarding the basic health care package’s contents and the health care system as a whole.
The Zorginstituut advises the Minister of VWS on whether to include medicines in the basic package, and also about other package-related questions. In general, effectiveness is not what is open to discussion, but whether there are other reasons for querying the inclusion of certain care in the basic package. For example, care may be so cheap that people could pay for it themselves, or care may be so expensive that we may not be able or willing to pay for it collectively. Such questions are referred to as package criteria.
Zorginstituut Nederland always asks the following questions when advising on the contents of the basic health care package:
In addition to advising on the standard health care benefit package, the Zorginstituut also advises on the health care system as a whole, i.e. about broader subjects such as ‘mental health care’ or ‘long-term care’. This helps the Minister of VWS to pursue government policy by implementing and amending legislation on the basic package.
Societal support and expertise
Zorginstituut Nederland has an abundance of knowledge and expertise. Health care is, however, a complex field that affects us all. This is why other parties have an important role in our assessments: medical experts, patients’ and professionals’ associations and other parties in health care. We consult these parties and use their input when making our assessments and forming our advice.
Two committees of external experts assist Zorginstituut Nederland in managing the basic package: the Scientific Advisory Committee (Wetenschappelijke Adviesraad, WAR) and the Insured Package Advisory Committee (Adviescommissie Pakket, ACP). The WAR is mainly involved in how the Zorginstituut assesses cost-effectiveness. The ACP supports the Zorginstituut in considerations that affect society.
This method of working ensures that we always involve knowledge from everyday practice in our advice and assessment outcomes, and that we contribute, together with our environment, to a good and well-balanced basic health care package.
‘The sluice’ for expensive innovative drugs
Due to expected high costs, the Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport (VWS) can place medicines in the so-called ‘waiting room’ or ‘sluice’ for expensive drugs.
These products can only be accepted into the insured package after:
- the Zorginstituut has advised on their inclusion in the insured standard health care benefit package and,
- if there are sufficient guarantees for responsible use and good evidence of its efficacy, and
- if the Ministry, after negotiations, can arrive at a reasonable financial arrangement with the supplier.
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