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NICE’s Discounting Review: Clear Thinking on Rational Revision Meets Obstacle of Industrial Interests

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The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recently published a review of discounting practice and theory as part of a consultation on its current methods guidelines. The review examines the case for revision or retention of current methods. The changes considered include eliminating favourable rates in certain special cases and the reduction of the base-case rate for costs and health effects from 3.5 to 1.5%. The review also notes the potential need to reduce the cost-effectiveness threshold to accommodate a discount rate reduction, explaining that an agreement between the UK government and the pharmaceutical industry proscribes changing NICE’s threshold range until the end of 2023. We believe NICE should be commended for a useful overview of the existing literature and relevant issues. We firmly endorse NICE’s view that favourable discount rates are not a good way to apply a preference for certain interventions. Similarly, we support the option of reducing the discount rate to 1.5%, which better accords with real government borrowing costs. We suggest further work to clarify the appropriate theoretical basis for the NICE’s social discount rate and the sensitivity of the threshold to changes in discounting. The prospects of a necessary discount rate reduction appear to depend on whether a threshold reduction can be achieved within NICE’s current range or if the range itself must be revised downwards. NICE has usefully informed the debate around discount rates. Ultimately, the path to a methodologically consistent and evidence-based revision of discounting depends on whether NICE needs to adjust the threshold too and if it is free to do so.

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Correspondence to James F. O’Mahony.

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JOM, MP and CMC have no conflicts or competing interests to declare.

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JOM drafted the initial manuscript. MP and CMC edited the draft. JOM finalised the manuscript and prepared it for submission.

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O’Mahony, J.F., Paulden, M. & McCabe, C. NICE’s Discounting Review: Clear Thinking on Rational Revision Meets Obstacle of Industrial Interests. PharmacoEconomics 39, 139–146 (2021).

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