Briefing

Opposition slams USMCA drug cost increases

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The Conservative and NDP health critics are slamming the federal government for agreeing to provisions in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) that could cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

What’s changed: The government agreed to extend the patent exclusivity term for biologic drugs from eight years to 10 in the deal. They also agreed to broaden the definition of biologics and extend market exclusivity for delays in the patent application process. Taken together, these changes would delay cheaper generic drugs from entering the market.

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What’s happened so far: On Monday, The Logic reported that the federal government expects concessions it made in its new trade agreement with the United States to make drugs harder to access and more expensive, according to an internal Health Canada memo. But it has not agreed to requests made by provincial governments in Quebec, Alberta and New Brunswick to cover those costs.

What it will cost: $169 million by 2029, and more each year after that, according to an April report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer.

What the Conservatives said: Marilyn Gladu, MP for Sarnia–Lambton and shadow health minister, noted that the government was talking about instituting pharmacare while simultaneously signing an agreement that made drugs more expensive. “It’s a failure of the federal government to negotiate a deal that’s going to cause these increased cost to the provinces, without coming with a plan of how to pay for it,” she said.

What the Conservatives want done: Gladu said she’d try to negotiate prices down, using Canadian patients’ collective purchasing power—across provinces, territories, and insurance plans—to get a better rate.

What the NDP said: Don Davies, MP for Vancouver Kingsway and NDP health critic, pointed out that the ministerial marching orders for both former health minister Jane Philpott and incumbent Ginette Petitpas Taylor included lowering drug costs. “Behind closed doors, at a trade table, they are knowingly and with eyes wide open signing provisions that will increase the cost of prescribed medication for Canadians,” he said.

What the NDP want done: The Health Canada memo said changes to the Patent Act could limit the length of patent extensions, reducing the cost increases. Davies called for Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains to “take whatever measures he could take that would neutralize or ameliorate some of these awful concessions they’ve given at the bargaining table.”

What the government said: “The government is committed to taking action to reduce the cost of drugs for Canadians, and is working with provinces and territories in this regard,” John Babcock, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada, told The Logic. “We will, of course, continue to work through with the provinces on many issues, but there’s no need for us to be working through with the provinces on USMCA,” Finance Minister Bill Morneau told reporters on Monday. “It’s helpful for industry, it’s positive for investment and we’re looking forward to moving forward.”