(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

Red Deer County has three new confirmed COVID-19 cases

Government says Alberta up to 1,181 total cases

Rimbey textile artists creating hand-made masks

Group has also been helped out by a local business

107 new cases of COVID-19 in Alberta, 5 additional deaths

More than 1,000 cases in Alberta total

WATCH: Town of Blackfalds released COVID-19 update video

Changes include Blackfalds Transfer Station hours of operation, BOLT schedules and staffing updates.

City of Lacombe announces BOLT Transit service change due to COVID-19

BOLT Transit is suspending its evening express route leaving from Red Deer at 8:24 p.m.

VIDEO: How doctors in Canada will decide who lives and dies if pandemic worsens

Officials in several provinces have been developing guides so that doctors don’t feel alone

A message from Central Alberta Co-op

Please remember to practice social distancing at all our locations.

‘The Charter still applies’: Canadians urged to monitor civil liberties during pandemic

Civil rights advocates say citizens need to be vigilant about how authorities are using new powers

Full World COVID-19 update: National Guard collect ventilators in New York; Spain, Italy improve

Comprehensive coronavirus update with news from around the world.

Trudeau announces more financial help for country’s most vulnerable

$40 million will go to Women and Gender Equality Canada

Feds pulled between bailing out oil and gas and moving to cleaner energy

Number of national environment organizations demanding no cash be spent to help oil companies

The inexact science involved in predicting the likely path of COVID-19

Staying home could be the difference between 6,000 deaths by April 30 or 1,600 deaths

Pandemic has shunted aside an array of Liberal initiatives, at least for now

It seems any fresh ideas will now have to find space in an already jammed queue

Most Read