Time to get on with the phar­ma­care job

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION - Howard Elliott

Phar­ma­care, of some kind, is com­ing to On­tario. Prob­a­bly across Canada.

Why? Be­cause Cana­di­ans want it. One com­pre­hen­sive sur­vey, by the An­gus Reid In­sti­tute, re­ports that more than 90 per cent of re­spon­dents favour phar­ma­care. Be­cause it’s needed. The same sur­vey found that one quar­ter of Cana­di­ans say they or some­one in their home can­not af­ford pre­scribed drugs and are split­ting pills or doses to make the medicine go fur­ther, or worse, not re­new­ing or even fill­ing pre­scrip­tions. Cor­po­rate drug ben­e­fit pro­grams are un­der huge and in­creas­ing strain be­cause of in­creas­ing cost and need.

The per­cent­age of the work­force today work­ing in con­tract, part-time or oth­er­wise pre­car­i­ous em­ploy­ment is huge and grow­ing. Many, if not most, of those work­ers don’t qual­ify for drug cov­er­age to be­gin with. The high cost of pre­scrip­tion drugs mean many aren’t get­ting their pre­scrip­tions filled.

That’s one ap­peal­ing thing about the Wynne gov­ern­ment’s phar­ma­care plan, set to roll out in Jan­uary. It’s not ter­ri­bly broad as it will only ap­ply to peo­ple up to age 24. But it is deep be­cause of the large and grow­ing need in that pop­u­la­tion, and be­cause On­tario al­ready has phar­ma­care through the Tril­lium Pro­gram for so­cial as­sis­tance re­cip­i­ents and se­niors who can’t oth­er­wise af­ford the drugs they need. The gov­ern­ment’s plan will cover nearly all drugs.

That’s a dif­fer­ent ap­proach than the one be­ing taken by An­drea Hor­wath’s NDP, who pro­pose a more uni­ver­sal pro­gram but with only 125 of the most pop­u­lar drugs cov­ered at the out­set.

Which ap­proach is bet­ter? That’s a mat­ter of some de­bate. Some com­plain the NDP plan is poorly costed. Oth­ers com­plain the Lib­eral plan ex­cludes a big chunk of the pop­u­la­tion.

Phar­ma­care is a miss­ing link in Canada’s uni­ver­sal health care sys­tem. It’s time that link was forged. Our pref­er­ence would have been for Ot­tawa to take the lead, but as with needed Canada pen­sion re­form, the feds couldn’t get their act to­gether, so On­tario had to make the first move.

So if phar­ma­care makes so much sense, why haven’t most gov­ern­ments al­ready moved on it? Why is Canada the only coun­try with so-called uni­ver­sal health care that doesn’t in­clude phar­ma­care?

It’s be­cause of cost. Phar­ma­care is ex­pen­sive to im­ple­ment, al­though once gov­ern­ments can start buy­ing drugs in suf­fi­ciently large vol­umes, big sav­ings can be re­al­ized. It will also save over­all be­cause peo­ple who don’t take their pre­scrip­tions typ­i­cally end up with health out­comes that de­mand more acute and ex­pen­sive in­ter­ven­tion. And none of that gets bet­ter with our ag­ing pop­u­la­tion, liv­ing longer but with more chronic ail­ments that re­quire drug treat­ment.

It’s time to get on with this job, across Canada.

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