The Canadian patchwork system of prescription drug coverage and the employer sponsored private health benefits group plans appear vulnerable to cost growth due to insufficient balance of power between fragmented public and private buyers, and pharmaceutical manufacturers. The emergence of “bad” insurance risks caused by new and very expensive treatments featuring high cost specialty medicines – also known as niche buster drugs – exposes this vulnerability. This study fills a gap in knowledge by seeking to better understanding how Canadian private insurers face the arrival of specialty pharmaceuticals. It completes an overview of a body of grey literature composed of publicly available online articles from the employment benefits and group insurance consulting and administration industry; online documents from group benefits sector conferences; and online or on demand materials from Canadian life and health insurers. Claims for high cost specialty drugs generate new bad insurance risks that Canadian health insurers attempt to mitigate through isolated corporate initiatives, industry-wide strategies and calls for universal, public catastrophic coverage. The outcomes of these strategies are limited cost-control measures as well as risk and cost transfers onto plan sponsors, patients and provincial public programs.

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Health Policy
School of Public Policy and Administration

Charbonneau, M. (Mathieu), & Gagnon, M.A. (2018). Surviving niche busters: Main strategies employed by Canadian private insurers facing the arrival of high cost specialty drugs. Health Policy. doi:10.1016/j.healthpol.2018.08.006