Members of the Crohn's and colitis community rallied at the steps of the Alberta Legislature Sunday morning, protesting the provincial government's consideration of a non-medical switch policy.
As a cost-saving measure, Alberta is considering limiting drug benefit coverage of biological medicines to a cheaper-made alternative known as biosimilars.
While the latter is approved for use and sale in Canada, and often considered a comparable drug in terms of efficiency and safety, some patients have expressed concern about being forced to switch off biologics that have provided stability for their diagnosis.
Crohn's patient Nick Arrand told CTV News Edmonton on Sunday at the rally the potential non-medical switch policy is causing stress amongst patients.
"I've been in remission for two years on this medication. And being forced to switch away from a drug while you're stable is not a good idea at all," he said.
According to the province's health ministry, Alberta has seen the cost of biologic drugs rise from $20 million per year to $200 million per year in the last decade.
"The prices of biologics are becoming more and more, I suppose, an unsustainable situation," Health Minister Tyler Shandro commented to media in November. "Drug claimants who are on biologics, maybe about two per cent—but they’re 17 per cent of the drug costs right now in this province."
In May, British Columbia announced $96 million in savings by moving some 20,000 residents from biologic prescriptions to biosimilar prescriptions.
Arrand called it incredibly frustrating to see a change considered for financial reasons.
"Our position is simple: The choice of medication—for all patients, not just Crohn's and colitis, or the MS, Parkinson's, anything—the choice should only be up to the doctor and their education.
"The choice of what medications you're on should not be in the power of the government."
NDP Health Critic David Shepherd spoke at the rally as well, criticizing the government for looming cuts across the healthcare and public sectors.
"I will be putting forward a motion in this house to have an emergency debate on these devastating cuts to these frontline health care staff," he told the crowd, receiving applause.
Days earlier, public and medical unions revealed they had been told by the government to expect up to thousands of lost posititions over the next three year as Alberta looks for inefficiencies. The Alberta Medical Association says also is expecting cuts that will primarily affect family physicians.