Background: Highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) has become the most important strategy for treating HIV infection in developed countries; however, access to HAART might vary under different funding policies. The Swiss health care system provides unrestricted access to HAART for all patients who need these newer combination therapies. This study investigated the impact of this funding policy on the society and health care system.
Methods: A cost-effectiveness analysis with natural history data and productivity estimates was based on the Swiss HIV Cohort Study. A random sample of patient charts was used to estimate health care costs. In addition to a base-case scenario, a pessimistic and an optimistic scenario of natural disease history was developed. Costs were expressed in 1997 Swiss francs (100 CHF correspond to about US$67) and effects as projected years of life gained.
Results: In the analysis limited to health care costs, on the basis of projected survival in each scenario, the cost-effectiveness ratio was 33,000 CHF (base case), 14,000 CHF (optimistic), and 45,000 CHF (pessimistic) per year of life gained. When changes in productivity were included, cost savings occurred in the base-case and optimistic scenarios. The cost-effectiveness ratio was 11,000 CHF per year of life gained in the pessimistic scenario.
Conclusions: HAART increases expected survival and health care costs. However, when productivity gains are included, society will probably save costs or pay a low price for substantial health benefits. The study provides strong arguments, from a societal perspective, to continue the current policy of providing unrestricted access to HAART in Switzerland. The presented results also suggest that this policy could be of interest for other developed countries. Decision makers in developed countries where access to HAART is limited should re-evaluate their policy for the benefit of the society at large.