September 2021 – Biosimilar drugs can help save money for both patients and drug plans. Supporting people through a switch from an original drug to a biosimilar one can help them see success with their new treatment. Many provincial drug plans have set up biosimilar switching strategies with patient support built in, and it’s smart for private drug plans to follow suit. And advisors can help.

What are biosimilar drugs and biosimilar switching?

Biosimilar drugs have the same active ingredient as other drugs already on the market. But they’re different from generic drugs in that they’re not interchangeable at the pharmacy, so switching a patient from one to the other requires a new prescription.

Biosimilar switching is when a patient starts taking the biosimilar drug instead of the original one. This can save patients and drug plans a lot of money, since biosimilar options often cost less (see chart).

Original drug name Biosimilar ingredient name Disease category Original drug estimated annual cost* Discount of biosimilar as of July 2020
Remicade Infliximab Immunomodulator $30,000 50%
Humira Adalimumab Immunomodulator $22,000 43%
Humalog Insulin Lispro Diabetes $750 11%
Avastin Bevacizumab Cancer $120,000 25%
Cost savings with biosimilar drugs
* High-level estimates, actual cost can vary significantly by patient
Source: Canada Life data, spring 2021

Biosimilar use becoming more common

The first province to adopt biosimilar use as policy was British Columbia. Stakeholders, including pharmacists, physicians, and patients, contributed to a switch program that included educational support through pamphlets and websites for patients and health professionals. Pharmacists and doctors were also compensated for helping a patient switch to a biosimilar. These initiatives helped create a supportive environment where patients could get their questions answered by trusted professionals.

Since then, Alberta, New Brunswick, and Quebec have announced their own biosimilar switching programs, with more provinces likely to follow. Each program has come with some level of patient and community supports for the transition.

Why support is important

A supportive environment helps patients develop the mindset for favourable outcomes. Expectations matter and negative expectations can have real health impacts. A negative mindset about biosimilars can lead to a “nocebo” effect, where those expectations lead to negative outcomes, but a broad support system can help patients feel confident about their new treatment.

Workplace benefit plans should work with their advisors to stay on top of new developments and adopt policies that align with provincial switching programs. This approach helps plans get more value from these medications and, most importantly, it helps plan members who rely on them for healthier, more productive lives.

This article is brought to you by CANADA LIFE, sponsor of The Benefits Alliance Group Take 5 for Health Benefits newsletter and website.


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