With Yukon implementing a transitioning policy on April 3 to expand the use of biosimilar medicines in its public drug plan, it’s important for benefits plan sponsors that create a similar policy for their workplace plans to be clear in their communication and education with employees.
“It’s never easy to switch a medication, especially when it’s forced by an outside body, so people will need a clear understanding of what biosimilar medicine is,” says Philippe Lagace, principal consultant at Mercer Canada.
“These drugs are still fairly new in Canada . . . but they’ve been in the market for many years, especially in European countries. Research so far has shown little or no clinical differences between the biologic drug and the biosimilar — so it isn’t the same drug, but the results are basically the same.”
Earlier this month, residents of Yukon who are enrolled in the territory’s pharmacare and chronic disease and disability benefits program were given six months to work with their health-care providers to make the transition from certain biologic drugs to a biosimilar drug to maintain coverage.
Yukon is the 10th jurisdiction to announce a biosimilars switching policy, after Northwest Territories, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.
The most obvious benefit for plan sponsors in switching to biosimilars is cost savings, says Lagace. “Biosimilars are a lower-cost option that supports the sustainability of group benefits programs. In general, the cost of a biosimilar is roughly 15 to 25 per cent less expensive than the original product. So going forward, if everyone . . . moves towards biosimilar products, they should expect savings.”
Based on watching the transition in other jurisdictions and considering the product listing agreements in place, he says benefits plan sponsors can expect between on and 2.5 per cent in cost savings.
“These savings could also help mitigate the impact of inflationary pressures, high-cost drugs and the aging population. Overall, we’re forecasting that health-care plan costs [and] drug plan costs may increase between eight and 10 per cent annually. So if plan sponsors decide to switch to biosimilar drugs, these annual increases should be a bit lower.”
He also highlights the importance of clear communication between government, physicians and individuals. “The good news is when similar changes were announced by other [jurisdictions], the government communicated with physicians so they could properly discuss the changes and the impact with their patients.
“People need to be aware of such significant changes ahead of time and the reasoning behind it.”