In an effort to keep a lid on rising prescription-drug costs, the health ministry in Canada's British Columbia convened a special task force to examine the process by which the provincial government agrees to cover medications through its Pharmacare program. And the results, whichthe government accepted, are drawing criticism.
Of the many recommendations (here's the report), one particular notion is being counterproductive - scrapping the Therapeutics Initiative, an independent group that evaluates meds and issues reports to Pharmacare for coverage decisions.
The task force would like to ensure the watchdog group has no future role in coverage, a recommendation that Alan Cassels, a drug policy researcher affiliated with the School of Health Information Sciences at the University of Victoria, calls 'bizarre."
In an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation*, Cassels says the task force never addresses what he says is $40 million to $50 million in annual savings that TI generates by issuing its recommendations. "They've done a fabulous job of both educating physicians and really sort of making drug policy in BC more evidence-based and more reliant on facts," he tells the CBC.
He and others have also criticized the provincial goverment because five of nine task force members have ties to pharma, such as task-force chair, Don Avison, who was touted as a lawyer with experience working for several ministries, although the announcement failed to mention Avison also sits on the board of LifeSciences British Columbia, a lobbying group that includes many drugmakers.
Although patient groups sometimes criticize Pharmacare for being too restrictive, Cassels cites TI's cautious stance toward Merck's Vioxx and Glaxo's Avandia diabetes pill as examples of prudent, evidence-based decisions when compared with coverage recommendations elsewhere in Canada.
"The question is what are they putting in (TI's) place and is it going to do as good a job as the TI has done?" Cassels says. "It's good that we've got a group advising government on caution when it comes to new and expensive drugs...They need powers expanded, not reduced...If you're getting rid of the one organization in the province (that provides independent advice) then, I don't want to exaggerate, but you're making it more dangerous to go into a pharmacy."
* If you look at the programs for Thursday, May 22, the interview is the second one listed.