Access to new medicines delayed is access denied

How long should patients wait for access to new medicines in Canada? In a new report, the Fraser Institute measured the delays to access caused by Health Canada when certifying new drugs as safe and effective, as well as the length of time it takes provincial governments to agree to reimburse those drugs under public drug plans after Health Canada has approved them. Fraser also measured the absolute scope of coverage for new medicines under public drug plans and compared the results to coverage under private drug plans.

Major findings:

  • Wait times at Health Canada remain long (about 1 year) but have improved relative to previous years and comparative international performance.

  • Wait times for provincial reimbursement also remain long (also about 1 year) and have also improved relative to previous years.

  • Public drug plans only fully cover about 39 per cent of drugs that are approved by Health Canada as safe and effective; down from 44 per cent in 2004.

  • Private drug plans generally offer full coverage for 100 per cent of all drugs approved by Health Canada – as soon as they are approved.

    Fraser recommends the following policy changes:

  • Harmonise Canada's regulatory processes with other countries such as the United States and Europe; if Canada entered into agreements of mutual recognition with other countries, new medications already approved in those countries could be introduced into the Canadian market far more rapidly.

  • Establish strictly enforced targets that Health Canada must meet before the agency receives user fees from drug companies; currently, these fees are not linked to performance; by contrast, in return for levying user fees, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is required to meet a number of performance goals intended to speed up drug approvals.

  • Replace Canada's government drug programmes with subsidised access to private insurance.

    Source: Brett J. Skinner and Mark Rovere, Access Delayed, Access Denied 2008: Waiting for New Medicines in Canada 2008, Fraser Institute, April 2, 2008.

    For text:

    For more on Health Issues:

    FMF Policy Bulletin/ 08 April 2008
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