A central Alberta man says people with autoimmune diseases who may be forced to switch medication are facing an impossible deadline.
In December, the province announced it would no longer fund biologically based drugs like Remicade, which treats autoimmune diseases such as Crohn’s, colitis and psoriasis, in favour of cheaper biosimilar medications.
Patients have six months to make the switch, but exceptions will be made for patients whose doctor shows a valid clinical reason they cannot switch.
On Wednesday, NDP health critic David Shepherd held a press conference in Edmonton alongside patients who were devastated that they may have to change medication.
“Premier Jason Kenney and the UPC are forcing them to switch from biologic to biosimilar medications without proper consultation, without a plan, without any regard for the risks involved, all to pay for their $4.7-billion corporate giveaway,” Shepherd said.
Travis Dutkiewicz, who has Crohn’s disease, said it takes six months to see his gastroenterologist. Luckily, he already has a February appointment because of a previous procedure.
“There’s only so many gastroenterologists. A general practitioner can’t deal with what the GIs do,” said Dutkiewicz, of Pendhold, who has been using the biologic Remicade for about nine years.
He said other drugs did not work for him, but Remicade controlled his symptoms and has kept him out of hospital for years.
“It’s not the fact that I don’t believe in biosimilars. I don’t believe in biosimilars for a patient who is already stabilized on biologics. I have had 70-odd infusions under my belt over 10 years. Coming off of it is going to be dramatic.”
He said if patients stop using a biologic, their body builds up an immunity toward it, so they can’t use it again.
“Why am I going to gamble with my quality of life when I’m already stabilized,” Dutkiewicz said.
Shepherd said there is no timeline to set up infusion clinics, no information on how many clinics there will be, or where they will be located, especially when it comes to rural Alberta.
He said no other country except Norway has forced patients to switch to biosimilars for non-medical reasons.
“I’m not an expert. But I know when I talk to the folks with the expertise, when I look at other jurisdictions that have done this, we are in uncharted territory here,” Shepherd said.