NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Canadians Face Long Wait for New Medicines

July 26, 2011

Federal and provincial government bureaucracies are taking more than two-and-a-half years on average to approve new prescription drugs, thereby depriving many Canadians of the latest in new medicines, finds a new report from the Fraser Institute.

Canada's drug approval process involves two separate stages:  First, Health Canada must certify a drug is safe and effective, then provincial governments decide if the drug will be reimbursed under their public drug programs.  This combination of federal and provincial decision-making creates delays or, more often, deprives patients of access to new medicines.

  • The study found that only 23 percent of new drugs approved as safe and effective by Health Canada in 2004 had been approved for either full or partial reimbursement under provincial drug plans as of June 9, 2011, compared to 98 percent that had been covered by at least one private insurer.
  • In addition, the study shows that, compared to its international counterparts, Health Canada takes longer to certify new drugs.
  • From 2006 to 2009, Health Canada's performance was worse than that of the EMEA, Health Canada's European equivalent.
  • Similarly, Health Canada's performance was worse than that of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in five of the last six years studied (2004 to 2009).

In the report, the authors suggest two specific policy changes to make new medicines more quickly available to Canadians:

  • Mutual recognition of drug approvals and cooperation with other jurisdictions.
  • Replace government drug programs with means-tested subsidized access to private insurance.

Source: "Canadians Waiting More than Two-and-a-Half Years for Governments to Approve New Medicines," Fraser Institute, June 29, 2011.

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