Benefits outweigh costs of pharmaceuticals: Conference Board

Drugs for diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, asthma beneficial
||Last Updated: 07/12/2013

The money spent on pharmaceutical treatment in Ontario more than pays off in savings for the health system and improved productivity for the economy, according to a Conference Board of Canada analysis. This report, Reducing the Health Care and Societal Costs of Disease: The Role of Pharmaceuticals, quantifies how pharmaceutical treatment affects both direct health-care costs and society more broadly.

“Public health care in Canada is under pressure to rein in rising costs, and drugs have been identified as a target in reducing costs. But our empirical research suggests that when it comes to certain conditions, pharmaceutical treatments offer benefits in reducing health-related complications and lowering the incidence of disease,” said Louis Thériault, director, health economics, for the Conference Board’s Canadian Alliance for Sustainable Health Care.

This analysis examines pharmaceutical treatments involving six drug classes (and the conditions they are used to treat):

angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors (high blood pressure and hypertension)
statins (high cholesterol)
biguanides (diabetes)
biological response modifiers (rheumatoid arthritis)
inhaled steroids (asthma)
prescription smoking cessation aids.

In Ontario, public, private and out-of-pocket expenses for these six drug classes totalled $1.22 billion last year. The Conference Board analysis calculated the impact of these treatments on overall health-care costs (including drugs, physicians and hospitals) and on other costs to society (including short and long-term disability, early mortality and lost productivity specifically due to disease). The total economic benefit attributed to treatment from these six classes of drugs was nearly $2.44 billion in 2012.

Between 2007 and 2012, the analysis found both the absolute and relative health and societal benefits increased vis-a-vis costs in Ontario. Among the six classes of drugs, pharmaceuticals used to treat diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and asthma produced benefits that outweighed their costs.

During this 2007-12 period, benefits did not fully offset the costs in the classes of drugs covering rheumatoid arthritis treatment and prescription smoking cessation.

For rheumatoid arthritis patients, biological response modifiers represent a new and effective class of drug, but treatment costs remain very high. For prescription smoking cessation aids, the benefits take longer to materialize than many other classes of drugs, according to the analysis.

The economic assessment of pharmaceutical treatments covers the recent historical period (2007-12); it also provides future projections from 2013 to 2030 under three different scenarios. In all three future scenarios, the benefits outweighed the costs — overall and in all six classes of drugs (including those for rheumatoid arthritis and smoking cessation aids). The analysis includes both branded and generic pharmaceuticals in the calculation of costs and benefits.

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