Interview with Ilka Wölfle, the Director of the European Representation of German Social Insurance


In 2020, 1.3 million people died of cancer in Europe and more than three million European citizens were diagnosed with one of over 200 types of cancer. The number of cancer cases could double by 2035. With its new action plan, the EC now wants to take more decisive action against cancer and it is supporting the fight against cancer with four billion euros.

DSV newsletter: Ms Wölfle, the EC presented its EU cancer plan in February 2021. Its comprehensive actions aim to improve prevention and treatment and to contribute to a better quality of life for EU citizens. On 14 June 2021, the European Representation of German Social Insurance, together with the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Funds (GKV-Spitzenverband), focused on this topic in an online event entitled "Getting to grips with cancer". What were the main topics of discussion at your event?

The fact is that almost 40 % of all cancer cases are preventable. Effective prevention is a key element in fighting cancer. At our event, which attracted around 100 participants, it quickly emerged that strengthening prevention efforts was seen as a priority. The EU is seen as having a duty to set the framework for health promotion and to give impetus to its Member States. Specifically, we discussed increasing tobacco and alcohol taxes here, strengthening occupational health protections and curbing the advertising of unhealthy foods aimed at children."

DSV newsletter: Since 2009, the EU has been working hard to expand and promote cancer screening programmes in its Member States. Apparently, this is still not running satisfactorily. What should be improved?

Ilka Wölfle: "The EC wants to support its Member States in providing screening for breast, colorectal and cervical cancer to 90 per cent of eligible EU citizens by 2025. That is a big step. In addition, our event also called for improving the access, quality and diagnostics of these programmes."

DSV newsletter: Were medicines also being discussed? 

Ilka Wölfle: "Yes, the medicines quickly came into focus. All three official participants, Dr Pfeiffer, Chair of the Board of the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Funds, the Member of the European Parliament, Dr Liese, as well as Dr Schreck from DG SANTE, spoke especially about the need for an economically practicable as well as a secure supply of pharmaceuticals. High prices of medicines are a particular problem when it comes to cancer medicines. Alternative pricing models should be considered here. Supply bottlenecks must also be taken seriously. One suggestion from the discussion was to establish digital reporting systems that give real-time transparency about the availabilities of the medicines needed for care."

DSV  newsletter: Ms Wölfle, what is your summary of the event?

Ilka Wölfle: "My conclusion is: the fight against cancer is one of the most important but also most challenging tasks currently being tackled at EU level. The social insurance system, being the provider of old-age, occupational accident, health and nursing care, makes its contribution to this almost by virtue of its official mandate. We published concrete proposals in a statement released early June 2021. Our 'Getting to grips with cancer' event, which we held together with the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Funds (GKV-Spitzenverband), was intended to provide further impetus. Feedback has shown me that it succeeded very well."