NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Prescription Drug Delays in Canada

April 19, 2012

Consideration of a national health care plan in the United States has provided the impetus for further analysis of the system in Canada.  Critics look to the pitfalls of top-down control over medical care in Canada as critical projections of what will inevitably occur in the United States if it adopts a similar system, say Mark Rovere and Brett J. Skinner of the Fraser Institute.

While these arguing points have typically centered on waiting times to see oversubscribed doctors, another point that is now boiling to the top is thoroughly bureaucratized access to prescription drugs.

  • The federal government does not allow patients to use new drugs until Health Canada has reviewed each product's safety and effectiveness.
  • The latest data show that in 2010 Health Canada took 527 days on average to approve new drugs, up from 472 days in 2009.
  • Health Canada took longer to approve new drugs than regulators in Europe from 2006 to 2010 and longer than the American Food and Drug Administration in six of the last seven years studied (2004 to 2010).

The Canadian government could speed up access to new drugs by harmonizing with European and American regulatory processes, which have similar safety standards, through mutual recognition of drug approval decisions.

The Canadian health system also struggles with its allotted decentralization of power to individual provinces to establish provincial health plans.  A lack of coordination between these regional plans and federal bureaucrats has further limited access to drugs.

  • Provincial public drug plans refuse to pay for most new drugs, even after Health Canada has approved them as safe and effective.
  • The latest data show that only 23 percent of the new drugs approved by Health Canada each year from 2004 to 2010 were eventually covered by provincial public drug programs as of January 1, 2012.
  • By contrast, 84 percent of these same drugs were covered under private-sector drug insurance plans over the same period and coverage occurred far more rapidly.

Source: Mark Rovere and Brett J. Skinner, "Access Delayed, Access Denied 2012," Fraser Institute, April 2012.

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