Seven years ago, sales of generic drugs were having a significant impact on drug plan costs. Those savings, however, are declining as overall pharmaceutical costs are climbing once more. Between 2010 and 2020, estimates suggest the demand for specialty drugs, including biologics, will grow by 600 per cent to more than $12 billion, according to Mark Rolnick, vice-president of payor partnerships and plan sponsor innovation at Shoppers Drug Mart.

As plan sponsors grapple with the challenge, Rolnick suggests pharmacists have a role in helping them address it. “The role of pharmacy is expanding across the country, and plan sponsors can leverage the accessibility of the pharmacist to improve health care,” he told participants at the 2017 Halifax Benefits Summit.

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When it comes to Canadians’ attitudes towards pharmacists, more than 90 per cent believe the profession plays a key role in the health system, said Rolnick. “More than 80 per cent say allowing pharmacists to do more for patients will both improve health outcomes and reduce health-care costs.”

When it comes to potential roles for pharmacists, Rolnick pointed to step therapy for chronic disease as an example. Many drug plans require patients to start with a specific drug before moving to a more expensive option. In the case of diabetes, for instance, the guidelines recommend patients with Type 2 diabetes start with a drug that costs approximately $20. If that isn’t effective, the next approved medication costs $180.

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Pharmacists and their patients, however, may not necessarily be aware of the requirement for step therapy. With a prescription unknowingly written for the second step in hand, patients will face difficulties when seeking to fill it at the pharmacy.

What would help to enhance care? Rolnick suggested that plans could share the step requirements with the pharmacy. “Ultimately, patients are impacted at the point of care,” said Rolnick, suggesting including pharmacists could help to both improve care and save costs.

Read more articles from the 2017 Halifax Benefits Summit

Copyright © 2018 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on

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