(Flickr)

Alberta to change drug coverage for 26,000 patients, expects to save up to $380M

Patients being treated with biologics on government-sponsored drug plans must switch to biosimilars

The Alberta government is changing its drug coverage for more than 26,000 patients, including those with diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro says over the next six months, patients on government-sponsored drug plans being treated with biologics must switch to biosimilars.

He notes biosimilars are up to half the cost, while being deemed just as effective by Health Canada.

Shandro says Alberta is following the lead of B.C. and Manitoba in making the switch and expects to save up to $380 million over the next four years, with more savings after that as more similar drugs come on the market.

Ontario is also consulting on biosimilars.

RELATED: B.C. Pharmacare expanding use of ‘biosimilar’ drugs to save money

Biologics are complex drugs derived from living cells, while biosimilars mimic the original drugs but are based on expired patents and can be delivered at less cost.

Critics, including Crohn’s and Colitis Canada, have questioned the move, saying the switch could lead to adverse reactions in some patients.

The change does not affect patients on private drug plans or those paying out of pocket, and will not apply to pregnant women or children.

The plan is to have everyone switched over by next July.

Shandro told a news conference Thursday that patients can apply for medical exemptions to prevent a switch, which could be granted pending a review by a team of physicians.

He said spending on biologics has been soaring over the past five years, growing on average at 16 per cent a year in Alberta, reaching $238 million in 2018-19.

“These high-cost drugs represent 19 per cent of Alberta’s total spending on drugs, despite being provided to fewer than two per cent of patients,” Shandro said.

“We understand that this is a change for patients and a change for health professionals, and change is not always easy.

“But this is the right thing to do. We’re continuing to provide Albertans with a safe, effective treatment at much lower cost.”

It’s one of several changes announced by Shandro for a health system that the United Conservative government says is delivering substandard results given its higher input costs compared to other provinces.

Earlier this week, Shandro announced Alberta will begin relying more on private clinics to deliver routine publicly funded operations, such as hip and knee replacements, in order to allow hospitals to handle more complex procedures and reduce wait times.

The province has also warned nurses and health-care support staff that layoffs could be coming as early as the spring, and has passed legislation allowing it to tie billing privileges for new doctors to rural areas where service is lacking.

Alberta is spending $20.6 billion this year on health.

That is a one-per-cent increase from the previous budget and represents 43 per cent of total government operational spending, but critics note it doesn’t keep pace with the rate of population growth plus inflation.

The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Water quality advisory issued for Buffalo Lake at Rochon Sands

Elevated levels of fecal bacteria were detected via testing of Buffalo Lake water, at this beach location

Stettler area to welcome new MDF production plant

Great Plains MDF Production Inc building a $750 million straw fibre MDF board plant

Country star Drew Gregory perfoms at Entertainment in the Park Aug. 5th

‘Gregory the singer is also Gregory the farmer – two sides of the same engaging, unpretentious and ‘amiable coin’

Economy grew 4.5% in May, Statistics Canada says

The retail trade registered a 16.4 per cent bump

QUIZ: A summer’s day on the water

How much do you know about boats and other watercraft?

A weakened Tropical Storm Isaias lashes virus-hit Florida

‘Don’t be fooled by the downgrade’

Wilford Brimley, ‘Cocoon’ and ‘Natural’ actor, dies at 85

He was on dialysis and had several medical ailments

Flames ground Jets 4-1 to take series lead, Winnipeg’s Scheifele injured

Playoff animosity didn’t take long to brew in Calgary’s 4-1 win over the Jets

N.L. Liberals to announce next leader, 14th premier during atypical convention Monday

Only 50 people will be allowed inside the event to welcome the next leader

Despite ‘perfect storm’ of U.S. discord, America’s truths trump foreign fictions

“On masking, it is extremely silly, it’s extremely dangerous”

NHL returns to action 142 after COVID-19 forced suspension of season

It became clear pretty quickly Saturday hockey hadn’t missed a beat

How one Montreal long-term care home managed to keep COVID-19 away

Montreal is the Canadian hotspot for COVID-19

Most Read