More Canadian Governments Promoting Switch to Biosimilar Drugs

February 27, 2020
By Noel Courage

Our earlier article explained that the British Columbia government is using reimbursement policy to strongly encourage adoption of biosimilars for patients on provincial drug plans. In phase one, the B.C. government switched certain patients using the innovative biologic drugs, Enbrel, Remicade and Lantus to biosimilar drugs. In phase two, patients using Remicade to treat gastrointestinal conditions were switched to a biosimilar drug. The timelines for the move were quick. For example, the phase two patients had six months to meet with their physician regarding the switch. The affected brand name drug companies and certain patient groups were quite unhappy with this program.

Alberta then followed suit, including additional drugs in its switching program. The new Alberta rules start July 1, 2020.

Patients are still permitted to pay out of pocket for their prescription drugs if they feel strongly enough about it and have the financial means to do so. Patients with private insurance may be unaffected by the change.

The Globe and Mail now reports that Ontario is moving forward with its own program. The details have not yet been released, but it is quite likely to be at least as encompassing as the British Columbia program.

These government efforts are largely driven by cost-containment efforts. The potential risk to patients from switching drugs was considered by the governments during the the decision-making process. The governments believe these risks to be tolerable in view of the cost savings. Exceptions can be made to the new rules in appropriate cases. If these programs save money, as expected, and do not cause significant patient issues, then expect to see more patients switched from other innovative drugs to biosimilars in future.

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