Empire Life has announced its drug specialty program, part of the Empire Life Actively Managed Drug Solutions portfolio, will become a standard feature in all their group drug plans. It will be included in new clients’ plans starting June 1, 2017. Current customers will join the program at renewal.

Specialty drugs are high-cost medications that treat complex conditions, like cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, blood disorders and multiple sclerosis. The specialty drug program will be offered in all provinces except Quebec, with a pay-direct drug card, said Empire Life in an announcement March 1.

Personalized education and coaching

Empire Life is partnering with Express Scripts Canada to deliver the specialty drug program, which in addition to dispensing medication, also provides personalized education and coaching. The aim of this education is to help employees better understand their conditions; learn to self-administer medication; receive support though complex treatments and handle side effects better; and take medication as prescribed while suffering fewer complications.

For employers, it is hoped that the program will lower group plan costs. "New, high-cost drugs are beginning to put pressure on drug benefits, and our customers need solutions to keep their plans sustainable and competitive," said Steve Pong, senior vice-president, Group Solutions at Empire Life.

Effective and expensive

Specialty drugs are often highly effective but very expensive. Research by Express Scripts Canada found that specialty drugs accounted for just 2 per cent of the claims they processed in 2015, but represented 30 per cent of customers' drug spending overall. This is expected to hit 42 per cent of spending by 2020, predicts Express Scripts.