Hughes – Pharmacare can’t suffer the same fate as electoral reform

Feb 19, 2019 @ 9:17

It’s no secret that the cost of just getting by is going up for Canadians.  Even when we find a little relief on one front, it seems there is another way to make life more expensive to counteract that.  That’s why more than half of Canadians are $200 or less away from not being able to pay bills and helps explain why more people are forced to make difficult choices such as the one between groceries or prescription medicine.  Yet Canada is well positioned to help eliminate that particular problem if we make the right choice about how pharmacare is instituted.  To do that we must bring in a comprehensive program that helps maximize health care dollars and avoid a program that helps drug providers and insurance companies more than it helps people who can’t afford the drugs they need.

But we already know the direction the government favours from the Finance Minister’s speech at the Economic Club of Canada shortly after the 2018 budget mentioned pharmacare. That’s when he stated we would be preserving much of the current system which is responsible for high drug prices in the first place.  Anyone who pays for their drugs won’t be shocked to learn that Canada has one of the highest per-capita rates of pharmaceutical in the OECD.  The limited pharmacare system the government is favoring won’t put a dent in that because it is only through bulk buying that those costs can be reduced.

Right now, Canada is the only industrialized country with a public healthcare system that does not include coverage for prescription drugs. The New Democrats are proposing a medication-coverage-for-all plan that will include the costs of prescription drugs into Canada’s existing healthcare system and will utilize the negotiating power of 37 million Canadians to lower the overall costs of drugs.  But when the government plan was leaked to media last week it confirmed that they are still unwilling to go beyond a ‘limited’ and ‘industry-friendly model of pharmacare’.

The big winners in that scenario are the pharmaceutical and insurance companies.  Lost in the shuffle are those Canadians who can’t afford the medication they need.  This only drives up health care costs in other areas because too many Canadians ( 1 in 5) skip the medicine they need, end up in the ER, or cut their pills in half because they can’t afford the cost of their medication.  Those are avoidable outcomes, but the government’s leaked plan won’t help much.

Going ahead with a limited plan will only muddy the waters and weaken the idea of pharmacare in most people’s minds.  Advocates can look at electoral reform as a comparable.  Despite the Prime Minister’s clear promise that 2015 was going to be the last election under a first-past-the post system, we are about to embark on another one in the fall.  If pharmacare is watered down to a system that doesn’t reduce costs for fear of upsetting pharmaceutical and insurance companies, people might believe that it doesn’t really do anything – and in that scenario they would be right.  But, again, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Canadians deserve their health care dollars to be spent in a way that promotes better outcomes.  They deserve a system that puts their interests first which a universal, public, comprehensive pharmacare system would do.  The government is preparing their last budget before the next election and have the opportunity to do what’s right.  The only question is whether they have the belly to stand up to insurance and drug companies instead of setting the table for them.