Health Minister launches high drug price consultations

Prescription medication

Health Minister Jane Philpott wants to expand the ability of a federal board to protect consumers from high drug prices. (CBC)

Health Minister Jane Philpott is announcing consultations on a suite of proposed regulatory changes related to the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board.

Philpott says the board was created 30 years ago to protect consumers and to ensure companies do not use monopolies to charge excessive costs. 

She says, however, the board is limited in its ability to protect consumers from high drug prices, a problem the federal government wants to address.

Philpott notes, for example, that the board benchmarks Canadian prices against seven other countries.

But she says countries used in the comparisons have some of the highest prices in the world, including the United States, where patented drugs cost twice as much as in Canada.

“This is the first time in more than 20 years that these regulations have been substantially updated,” Philpott said of the proposed changes to the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board. 

 The goal is to take advantage of lower drug prices in other countries, as well to consider value for money and affordability when setting the bar on excessive pricing, she said.

“If a new drug does not offer real health improvements, or is only slightly more effective than an existing treatment, is it fair for that drug to cost two or three times as much?” Philpott asked. 

Online consultation run until June 28. 

The Patented Medicine Prices Review Board welcomed the minister’s move “to strengthen and modernize its pricing framework to reduce the cost of prescription drugs,” Dr. Mitchell Levine, the board’s vice-chair, said in a statement. 

 Philpott hopes the new regulations will be in place no later than the end of 2018. 

The federal government also aims to speed up how quickly patients can access new medications.

They’re combining Health Canada’s reviews on safety, quality and efficacy of new medications at the same time drug coverage recommendations are made.

Philpott says Canadian drug spending has ballooned by 184 per cent since 2000 as a share of gross domestic product —- faster than in all the comparison countries.

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