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Provinces slow to cover new drugs after approval, makers complain

Provinces take more than a year, on average, to cover new drugs after Health Canada approves them, a group representing pharmaceutical companies said today. .
Provinces take more than a year, on average, to cover new drugs after Health Canada approves them, a group representing pharmaceutical companies said today. . THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Provinces can take up to 15 months to cover new drugs in their drug plans after they’re approved by Health Canada, a group of drug makers announced today.

The delays hurt “vulnerable populations in Canada, such as seniors or those fighting cancer, who are generally covered by public drug plans,” said Isabelle Robillard of Innovative Medicines Canada, a group of Canadian pharmaceutical companies.

The group presented their findings at a news conference Tuesday in Ottawa.

Private drug plans are “better, more generous and faster than what we see in the (public) drug plans in Canada,” said Brett Skinner, the group’s executive director.

The group said that it normally took 449 days from Health Canada approving a new drug as safe and effective to provincial plans starting to cover it, a delay that it said placed Canada 15th on a list of 20 industrialized countries.

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Provincial health ministries are also stingy about covering new medicines at all, the study showed – only 37 per cent of new medicines ended up being covered by provincial drug plans. The group said that placed Canada 18th out of 20 countries.

Provinces make their own decisions about what drugs to cover, to what extent, and what conditions to apply. Provincial drug benefit programs largely cover the poor, disabled and elderly. Eleven million people are eligible for provincial and territorial drug plans, Skinner said.

The study looked at larger-population provinces, which between them make up about 80 per cent of Canada’s population, to compare with other countries’ systems.

Pharmacare is something to work towards down the road: Philpott
Pharmacare is something to work towards down the road: Philpott

Health Minister Jane Philpott says that adopting a pharmacare policy may be achievable in the future but right now the Liberals are focusing on bringing down prescription costs for big government purchasers.

An official from British Colombia’s health ministry says they are aware of the study and are reviewing it.

“We base our drug-coverage decisions on a rigorous review of clinical evidence to ensure we are consistently covering the most beneficial drugs for our patients,” Stephen May told Global News in an email.