Sunday, April 20, 2014

Canadians spending less on prescriptions

TORONTO—The amount Canadians spend on filling prescriptions at pharmacy counters has taken a dip for the first time since the Second World War.
But health economists predict big shifts in the pharmaceutical industry soon will reverse that decline.

A new edition of the “Canadian Rx Atlas,” compiled at the University of British Columbia, found Canadians spent almost $23 billion on prescription drugs through retail pharmacies in 2012-13, or $650 per person—down one percent from five years earlier.
“On a per capita basis, spending on prescription drugs at retail pharmacies in Canada has been flat for the last five years,” said Steve Morgan, a health economist at UBC’s school of population and public health, and the atlas’s lead author.
“But the calm surface of drug spending in the last few years belies what are dramatic transformations within the [pharmaceutical] sector,” he added from Vancouver.
The atlas analyzes retail spending for more than 10,000 medications within 33 categories using data from the health-care market research company IMS Brogan.
That analysis shows that brand-name “blockbuster” medicines that came to market in the 1990s to treat such common conditions as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heartburn, and depression no longer command the major share of prescription dollars.
In 2007-08, those drugs accounted for $8.7 billion, or 40 percent, of all spending at retail pharmacies.
This year, annual spending for those classes of medications fell to $6.7 billion—a drop of $2 billion—mainly because of the expiration of patents for brand-name drugs, which expanded the market for cheaper generic versions.
Now, drug dollars increasingly are going to specialty or “niche” medications, Morgan said.
Spending on drugs for such diseases as rheumatoid arthritis, HIV, cancer, and multiple sclerosis doubled to $3 billion in 2012-13 from five years earlier.
The atlas shows that while the average cost of a prescription for high blood pressure pills is about $27, filling a single script for an anti-inflammatory drug to treat rheumatoid arthritis, for instance, can top $2,100.
In fact, more than a third of drugs now being developed by pharmaceutical companies are niche drugs, which Morgan said will come to market with hefty price tags.
“The pharmaceutical industry is moving towards a new revenue model—we see tell-tale signs of things to come from this Rx atlas,” he noted.
“Policy-makers must act now to ensure fair pricing and equitable access before spending gets out of hand again.”

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