Red Deer woman speaks out against changes to drug coverage

Facebook page created to advocate against forced switching of medication

A Red Deer woman says changes to drug coverage by the province goes beyond the elimination of biologics.

In December, the province announced it would no longer fund biologics, which are complex drugs derived from living cells, and instead support biosimilars that are based on expired patents delivered at less cost.

Biologics are prescribed for chronic illnesses, like rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and Crohn’s disease, that have few good treatment options.

Adrea Rusnak said in addition to eliminating access to biologics, coverage for two non-biologic drugs she uses, Resotram to aid digestion and Nabilon for pain, have also been eliminated as of January.

“It seems to be covered under group plans, but not for individual plans or senior plans. This is affecting lower income people the most,” said Rusnak, 45, who suffers from autoimmune, neurology, rheumatology and bleeding disorders and deals with full body pain.


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Rusnak also uses four biologic drugs and said her doctors have already determined alternative drugs won’t work. They may have to resort to frequent surgeries and other therapies.

“In order for me to get onto a biologic, I had to prove I tried every other medication possible.”

The government has said exceptions will be made for patients whose doctors show valid clinical reasons they cannot switch. But Rusnak is not confident she will be an exception, because the province is determined to save money on medication.

“I understand that. The money just isn’t there. But for patients like me, it would be costing more money, because it would put me into the hospital.”

One of her biologics would have to be replaced with a weaker medication, which means she will require a higher dose, so the cost will also be higher, she said.

Instead of eliminating access to biologics to cut costs, it should be standard practice that doctors prescribe them as a last resort, she said.

Last week, Rusnak created Canadian Patients for Biologics and Physician Prescriptions on Facebook for people concerned about mandatory forced switching and the elimination of medications.

She said people are worried about what kind of reactions they may have to different medication, how well it will work for them. They are taking their concerns to government members, but do not get a response, said Rusnak.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro previously said that 26,000 patients already getting provincially funded biologic drugs would gradually be switched to biosimilar ones by summer.

Shandro has said Alberta is following B.C. and Manitoba in switching to biosimilars.

“Our decision is based on expert opinion and evidence from B.C. and Europe, that shows they are clinically equivalent to biologics. The European Medicines Agency states that 10 years’ experience with many different biosimilars shows no difference in safety or efficacy between them and their reference biologics,” said Shandro.

— with files from The Canadian Press

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