Health Canada unveils changes aimed at lower drug costs

Review board can now consider whether the price of a drug reflects its value for patients

Prescription pills. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy

Ottawa is overhauling how it regulates the cost of patented medicines, including ending comparisons to the U.S. — changes that Canada’s health minister is billing as the biggest step towards lower drug prices in a generation.

Health Canada’s long-awaited amendments to patented medicine regulations, unveiled Friday, include allowing the arm’s-length Patented Medicine Prices Review Board to consider whether the price of a drug reflects the value it has for patients.

The list of countries that the quasi-judicial board uses to compare prices and gauge its own levels will no longer include the U.S. and Switzerland, both of which are home to some of the highest drug prices in the world.

That’s a category that has also long included Canada, something Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor said she’s determined to change.

“If we look at their health care system, and we also look at the economies … it is really hard to compare their health care system to what we have here in Canada,” Petitpas Taylor said in an interview.

“When we changed the basket of countries, we changed them because we wanted to make sure could compare ourselves to similar jurisdictions that have similar health care systems and also similar populations.”

Jane Philpott, Petitpas Taylor’s predecessor in the portfolio, announced in May 2017 the government was embarking on a series of consultations on a suite of proposed regulatory changes related to the drug prices board.

Philpott said the prices review board — first created 30 years ago to ensure companies do not use monopolies to charge excessive costs — was limited in its ability to protect consumers from high drug prices. The government expressed at the time it hoped to have the new regulations in place no later than the end of 2018.

It has taken a long time for the final changes to be put in place, Petitpas Taylor acknowledged, but she said that’s only because the government wanted to ensure it consulted with all industry stakeholders, patient groups, and people who worked in the field.

RELATED: U.S. to set up plan allowing prescription drugs from Canada

She anticipates the amendments announced Friday will save Canadians approximately $13 billion over 10 years on patented drug costs, and called it a “huge step” towards a national pharmacare plan — the public, single-payer system of drug coverage Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to pursue.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, whose party appears poised to make its own proposal for a national plan a central component of its election campaign, dismissed Friday’s announcement as little more than a stall tactic.

“The best way Canada can lower the price of drugs is well documented: buying them in bulk using the negotiating power of a 37-million-person single-payer pharmacare plan,” Singh said in a statement.

READ MORE: 731,000 Canadians going into debt to buy prescription drugs, UBC says

“But big pharmaceutical and insurance companies don’t want that, so after meeting with them more than 700 times since 2015, Trudeau’s Liberals are stalling pharmacare, and therefore making life easier for big pharma.”

Innovative Medicines Canada, which represents the pharmaceutical industry, warned in a statement that the regulatory amendments would limit the access of Canadian patients to new, cutting-edge treatments, and would also discourage investment in Canada’s life science sector.

Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

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

Just Posted

UPDATED: Cowichan Valley woman files sexual harassment suit against former Mountie

Burkett is also being sued by two other women for sexual harassment

Provincial program aims to keep hazelnuts growing

The goal is to replace trees and establish new orchards with disease-resistant varieties

VIDEO: Talented quartet comes to Duncan for International Guitar Night Jan. 23

Guitarists from England, Turkey, Hawaii, and Finland present stunning, creative event

Coming up in Cowichan: Get your raffle tickets; dementia workshop

Get your Search & Rescue raffle tickets Supporting Royal Canadian Marine Search… Continue reading

VIDEO: Soldiers trade rifles for snow shovels to help dig out St. John’s

A state of emergency is set to extend into a fifth day

Power lines cut as thieves strike Vancouver Island veterinary hospital

‘Thankfully there weren’t any animals or staff in the clinic when this happened’

Warm ‘blob’ could be behind mass starvation of North Pacific seabirds: study

Unprecedented death toll raises red flag for North American marine ecosystems

ICBC to bring in ranking system for collision, glass repair shops

Change comes after the much-maligned auto insurer has faced criticism for sky-high premiums

‘It was just so fast’: B.C. teen recalls 150-metre fall down Oregon mountain

Surrey’s Gurbaz Singh broke his leg on Mount Hood on Dec. 30

Vancouver Island Pride weekend returns to Mount Washington Alpine Resort

Building on the success of last year’s family-friendly pride festival on Vancouver… Continue reading

Scarlett Point lighthouse keeper wins a million bucks playing the lottery

“I usually just get a quick pick, so I didn’t expect to win a big prize”

B.C. woman crowned the fastest female marathon runner in Canadian history

Malindi Elmore ran an incredible 2:24:50 at the Houston Marathon

Most Read