Peter Rabbit is a Badger in Disguise: Deconstructing the Belief System of the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review in Health Technology Assessment

  • Paul C Langley University of Minnesota


The Institute for Clinical and Economic Review (ICER), a Boston-based consulting group, has seen itself as the lead organization in the US for evaluating pharmaceuticals and, at product launch, making recommendations for pricing and access. Previous commentaries in Innovations in Pharmacy have made the case that the ICER analytical framework is nonsensical. It abandons the standards of normal science in favor of inventing evidence through unsupported assertions regarding measurement properties and lifetime assumption driven simulations. It has been labeled pseudoscience. Yet ICER persists in its belief that all preference scales have ratio properties. ICER believes it can disregard these standards, notably in respect of the axioms of fundamental evidence, and continue its technology assessment activities. Challenging a belief system is not undertaken lightly, although in the case of ICER the belief system is built on such shaky foundations that the effort seems almost superfluous. ThisĀ  deeply held belief, shared apparently by the majority of health economists according to ICER, that all preference scores have ratio properties with a true zero, is easily overturned: if it has ratio properties how is it that preferences scores have been known for over 30 years to recognize health states worse than death? In other words, they can have negative preferences. Recognizing this manifest contradiction is important because it brings into relief the wider belief system of the International Society for Pharmacoeconomics and Outcomes Research (ISPOR) who share the same mythical certainties. A key issue is one of cultural relativity: can we accept with equanimity the parallel existence of two belief systems in health technology assessment when one is clearly nonsense? The answer proposed here is clearly no; although unfortunately the blowback by ICER and ISPOR will ensure the survival at least in the near term of their unfortunate meme.


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Received 2021-05-03
Published 2021-05-25
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