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Don’t miss it: The 2022 Drug Data Trends & National Benchmarks report.

Year two of the COVID-19 pandemic saw the continuation of lower rates of prescribing for high-volume drugs such as antibiotics. As well, for the second year in a row, fewer insured individuals made any claims at all, reflecting the decreased frequency of medical appointments, reports the 2022 edition of the TELUS Health Drug Data Trends & National Benchmarks report.

However, despite these pandemic-driven downward trends, the average monthly eligible amount per insured grew by the same amount in 2021 as it did in 2019, before the pandemic. As well, the average eligible amount per claim jumped by 8.9% in 2021, well above growth rates for the previous four years.

Specialty drugs are the main driver of growth in costs. In the report, a new section on high-cost claimants reveals that two per cent of all claimants submitted eligible amounts totalling more than $10,000 in 2021, and this small proportion of claimants accounted for 40% of the total eligible amount for all claimants.

Activity in the depression category must also be noted. While the relatively low prices of its products mean its share of the total eligible amount did not increase during the two years of the pandemic, claims volume and the number of claimants did increase. As a share of claimants, antidepressants have climbed in their ranking from fifth to third position for claimants aged 20 to 39 and 40 to 59.

Data for the 2022 report was extracted from the TELUS Health database, based on claims activity of more than 10 million insured Canadians in 2021. The report is divided into four main sections: costs and utilization, specialty drugs, drugs by therapeutic class and plan management. Key findings include:

  • Fewer insureds made a claim: 56.3% of insureds made a claim in 2021, compared to 62.4% before the pandemic (in 2019).
  • In the past two years, annual growth rates for the eligible amount per claim significantly outpaced average annual increases in the Consumer Price Index (CPI). What makes this more remarkable is the fact that the CPI’s increase of 3.4% in 2021 was its highest since 1991.
  • The average annual eligible amount per claimant was $928.30 in 2021, up 6% from 2020 ($876.11).
  • Specialty drugs’ contribution to the growth rate in the eligible amount per insured was just short of double digits (9.5%) in 2021.
  • If current trends continue, specialty drugs could represent almost half of the average eligible amount per certificate by 2026, or $55 out of a total certificate amount of $111.
  • Diabetes appears set to depose rheumatoid arthritis as the top category by eligible amount, in part because public switching policies will increasingly result in more prescriptions for lower-cost biosimilar biologics. As well, utilization of higher-cost diabetes products climbs year after year.
  • As a result of B.C.’s switching policy for biologics, private drug plans in that province saw biosimilar drugs’ share of the eligible amount for biologics with biosimilar options soar from 7% in January 2019 to 65% by the end of 2021.

Download your copy of the 2022 Drug Data Trends & National Benchmarks report.