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B.C.'s drug plan to save millions with switch to cheaper copies

Last Updated May 27, 2019 at 5:53 pm PDT

FILE - (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)
Summary

Esdaile also tells NEWS 1130 the safety concerns raised by pharmaceutical companies are unfounded

The rheumatologist adds most bio-generic drugs are just as effective as the originals

VICTORIA – Treatment costs for arthritis, diabetes and Crohn’s disease sufferers across the province are coming down.

British Columbia is the first province in Canada to replace pricier medications with so-called biosimilars.

Health Minister Adrian Dix says the switch should save Pharmacare close to $100 million over the next three years and could cut the price of some drugs in half because newer versions of existing medications cost up to 50 per cent less.

Dr. John Esdaile, the scientific director of Arthritis Research Canada, says this brings us more in line with Europe where copy drugs are prescribed most of the time.

“Norway – 98 per cent have been transitioned, Denmark – 95 per cent, England – 92 per cent, so had Canada switched everyone January 1, they would have saved $791 million. Not putting patients at risk,” he says.

The rheumatologist adds most bio-generic drugs are just as effective as the originals.

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“You can think of these drugs as identical twins. Maybe their school mates can tell them apart, their mother could tell them apart, they’re genetically identical. I’m a believer and I think it’s great that it’s happening in B.C. I’m very proud. More people are going to be covered for more drugs. There’s going to be no change in the level of healthcare. Nothing like that. A lot of people are going to get new benefits.”

Esdaile also tells NEWS 1130 the safety concerns raised by pharmaceutical companies are unfounded.

“I have no anxiety because we’re going to save a lot of money and the ministry is re-investing that money in drugs that we really want and relaxing rules, so we can get more people medicines than we’re able to now.”

When he announced changes to Pharmacare on Monday morning in Victoria, the health minister confirmed there will be a six month transition period before coverage for more expensive drugs is cut off.

Dix, who has Type 1 diabetes, also reported he’s already taking a biosimilar form of insulin.

Bioengineered drugs are the single biggest expense for public drug plans and in 2018, B.C. spent $125 million on three medications to treat chronic conditions.