Diabetes specialists ‘whooping and hollering’ as B.C. trims red tape for PharmaCare drug coverage

Diabetes specialists ‘whooping and hollering’ as B.C. trims red tape for PharmaCare drug coverage

This story is part of Situation Critical, a CBC British Columbia series reporting on the barriers people in this province face in accessing timely and appropriate healthcare.

Diabetes doctors say they are overjoyed after learning the BC government has cut some of the red tape blocking the way for patients seeking access to potentially life-saving medicines.

People with type 2 diabetes who want PharmaCare coverage of the drug Ozempic only have to try a cheaper drug first and no longer have to take a second course of treatment that doctors consider dangerous, Health Minister Adrian Dix announced on Thursday.

“Ozempic is … a very good drug and that’s why we’re moving it forward in this way, by following the evidence, by proposing a rigorous and independent trial,” he told reporters at a news conference.

dr BC Diabetes medical director Tom Elliott said the news was greeted with “whooping coughs and howls and high fives” in his office.

“I’m over the moon for my own clients,” he told CBC. “It’s an amazing day. I can’t take the smile off my face.”

The drug Jardiance, which like Ozempic lowers patients’ blood sugar levels, will also be available through the expanded access announced on Thursday.

Forxiga, another diabetes drug, and the blood thinner apixaban are now fully acquired by PharmaCare.

BC tracks a high rate of Americans seeking Ozempic

The announcement follows CBC reports that showed doctors like Elliott were increasingly frustrated with the process to prove their patients should have access to Ozempic under PharmaCare’s special authority program.

Special powers of attorney are only given to patients at the request of their doctor, and in such cases only when cheaper drugs have failed.

Prior to Thursday’s news, patients generally had to have tried both a sulfonylurea drug and metformin before they could request coverage on Ozempic.

Elliott said he refuses to prescribe sulfonylureas to his patients because they are so dangerous. These drugs can cause a person’s blood sugar levels to drop to the point where they pass out, have a seizure, or even die.

Under the new system, no one needs to try a sulfonylurea before accessing Ozempic or Jardiance through PharmaCare. Only metformin is required.

Elliott on Thursday described metformin as a “safe drug,” but noted that it can cause stomach upset in about 30 percent of patients.

Ozempic, on the other hand, is a “fantastic drug,” according to Elliott.

“The commercials you see on American television are real. The drug is particularly effective for weight loss, and weight loss is a crucial part of disease management for people with type 2 diabetes,” he said.

US faces ongoing shortage of diabetes drug Ozempic (FPWCOz2)

Elliott said his goal now is to advocate for reducing PharmaCare’s out-of-pocket costs, which remain a major obstacle for many diabetes patients.

During Thursday’s press conference, Dix also addressed the ongoing shortage of Ozempic in the United States, which has been linked to a TikTok trend promoting its use as a weight-loss tool.

Dix said BC hasn’t seen a similar shortage, but the province sees a significant number of Americans searching for Ozempic recipes.

About nine percent of Ozempic prescriptions in BC are for US patients, he said. That’s 22 times the overall rate of Americans receiving prescriptions in that province.

“We’re going to look at this … because we want to make sure Ozempic is available to Canadians and people in British Columbia,” Dix said.

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