Media influence on Herceptin subsidization in Australia: Application of the rule of rescue?

Ross MacKenzie, Simon Chapman*, Glenn Salkeld, Simon Holding

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Citations (Scopus)


Background: In August 2006, the Australian government announced that Herceptin (Trastuzumab) would be added to the national Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) of government-subsidized drugs, for treatment with adjuvant chemotherapy of HER2 breast cancer. Following initial reticence, the health minister responded to a campaign by patients and patient advocacy groups by announcing PBS subsidization which lowered the cost of a weekly dose from A$1000 to A$30. The cost to the government would be A$470 million over three years for treatment of an estimated 2100 women annually. Design: We analysed the news frames used in all direct and attributed statements (n=239) in television news coverage of the discourse preceding the Herceptin decision by the Australian government. Setting: Five Sydney free-to-air channels between October 2005 and August 2006. Main outcome measures: News frames or themes. Results: Of five news frames identified, one ('desperate, sick women in double jeopardy because of callous government/incompetent bureaucracy') accounted for 54% of all reported statements. Government financial parsimony was framed as responsible for the women's plight, with drug industry pricing never mentioned. Claimed benefits of Herceptin often conflated cancer non-recurrence and survival and favoured quantification rhetoric which emphasized percentage increases in improvement rather than the more modest increases in absolute survival. Conclusions: News frames invoking key tenets of the 'rule of rescue' dominated television discourse on Herceptin. Clinicians, patients, their families and patient advocacy groups invoking the rule of rescue can increase the likelihood of achieving their objective of gaining access to expensive healthcare such as pharmaceuticals. Rational, criteria-based public health policy will find it hard to resist the rule of rescue imperative.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)305-312
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of the Royal Society of Medicine
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2008
Externally publishedYes

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