This month, the president and chief executive officer of Green Shield Canada, the fourth-largest private payer in Canada, hailed British Columbia’s strategy as “forward-thinking” and “essential to maximizing opportunities in healthcare.”
Earlier this year, British Columbia became the first Canadian province to mandate that patients currently taking reference biologics for rheumatology indications and for diabetes must be switched to biosimilars over a 6-month period.
The policy will affect patients covered under PharmaCare, a publicly funded national drug coverage program; in Canada, prescription drug coverage is split between public programs for those 65 or older, in long-term care, or without income, while private, employer-based coverage applies to all others.
This month, the president and chief executive officer of Green Shield Canada (GSC), the fourth-largest private payer in Canada, hailed British Columbia’s strategy as “forward-thinking” and “essential to maximizing opportunities in healthcare.”
Writing in an op-ed in The Globe and Mail, GSC’s Zahid Salman explained that, as innovative drugs, such as gene and cell therapies, enter the marketplace with ever-higher price tags, payers both public and private have had to make increasingly difficult decisions about which drugs are covered. Biosimilars, wrote Salman, represent a logical means by which to provide patients with effective care at a fraction of the price, helping to promote a sustainable healthcare system for Canadian patients.
However, the continued dominance of brand-name infliximab, Remicade, in the Canadian market after the entry of biosimilar options “paints a picture of financially interested parties driven to extreme measures to protect profits and sales, resorting to generating fear around the progress biosimilars represent.” The resulting low uptake of biosimilars, he added, has diminished the opportunity to promote sustainability without compromising patient care.
Salman writes that GSC applauds British Columbia for its decision to implement its biosimilar program, and he called on other provincial governments to take the same approach as a step toward greater healthcare sustainability.
GSC has been an early champion of biosimilars in the Canadian context; in 2016, the company started to give biosimilars preferred product listings on formularies, and in 2018, the payer launched a pilot switching program under which patients already treated with biologics were transitioned to biosimilars. The program, which was optional for GSC’s clients, has been highly successful, as reported previously, and patients were largely accepting of the switch.