Benefits: A Holistic Approach in an Age of Rapid Innovation

Glenn Monteith, Vice-President, Innovation and Health Sustainability, Innovative Medicines Canada

bh in Brief

Innovative Medicines Canada (IMC) is the national voice of Canada’s innovative pharmaceutical industry. IMC advocates for policies that enable the discovery, development and commercialization of innovative medicines and vaccines that improve the lives of all Canadians. IMC supports its members’ commitment to being valued partners in the Canadian healthcare system.


“New technologies and innovations in science are changing healthcare ….”


New technologies and innovations in science are changing healthcare in Canada and around the world.

The rise of precision medicine has changed how we look at disease and allows physicians to tailor treatments to patients based on their genetics. Advances in science have led to rapid growth in treatment options, including some that have changed our perception of certain diseases. For example, many forms of cancer are now being viewed as a chronic disease thanks to the discovery of new, more effective treatments. This kind of change has implications for the provision of healthcare generally, and more specifically, the long-term costs of drug benefit programs.

A Shifting Benefits Paradigm

Evidence shows that employees consider coverage for prescription drugs to be the number one workplace benefit; and yet, in the face of what appear to be steadily rising costs, some employers are wondering if their plans will be affordable in future.  This uncertainty will require employers to evaluate the objectives of their work place benefits with a more holistic lens if health benefits are to continue protecting employees when they need them most.

Employers know that in addition to rising costs for specialty drugs, they must also accommodate an aging workforce and the increasing burden of chronic illnesses like diabetes. When viewed through a conventional lens, it truly does seem that advancements in life science have put the sustainability of benefit programs at risk. 

But in an era of rapid innovation, should we be using a conventional lens? Should the paradigm shift away from upfront costs to downstream savings, thanks to increased workplace productivity and lives saved or changed for the better? In other words, should the debate move from containing costs to increasing value?

Changed Disease Outcomes

We know that disease outcomes have changed greatly over the years, and not just in relation to cancer. Multiple sclerosis for example, which once doomed people to lives of disability and inactivity, is now regarded as a chronic condition that can be managed even as people remain productive employees.

In many cases, new medicines have not only improved quality of life and increased productivity, they have led to savings in the healthcare system from reductions in hospital stays, to fewer or less invasive surgical procedures and the avoidance of chronic illness or disability.

New ways of understanding and treating disease also affect how we view prevention. Harnessing the power of data and a deeper understanding of disease will not only change our perception of health, they will also empower people to make better choices and maintain healthier lives.

Benefit Plans of the Future

In such a changing environment, it is difficult to describe the benefit plans of the future.  How they evolve will depend on input from all stakeholders in the healthcare system, including patients. What is known is that cost containment is only one component, and that other values must also be considered if future programs are to continue to provide groundbreaking medicines that improve health outcomes and sustain productivity in the workplace. bh 


Categories: Editorial