National pharmacare program: A no brainer?
As I write healthcare ministers are meeting in Edmonton to discuss legal cannabis, pharmacare, mental health and the opioids crisis. All are worthy of discussion and action but for this piece I’m going to focus on the setting up of a national pharmacare program. Hopefully, free prescription medications for all, regardless of anything.
Prior to the ministers getting together a press statement from the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) called emphatically for a national pharmacare program. The full release reads: Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuff says he is optimistic that pharmacare will emerge as a priority in this week’s meeting between federal and provincial and territorial health ministers.
The CLC will join other organizations advocating for pharmacare at the meetings taking place in Edmonton this Thursday and Friday October 19 and 20.
“We will be there to encourage the health ministers to take steps that would advance the discussion around implementation of a universal prescription drug plan that would cover everyone in Canada, regardless of age, income or where they live,” said Yussuff.
At July’s Council of the Federation meeting, provincial and territorial premiers called on the federal government to continue to collaborate with them and engage actively in discussions about establishing a national pharmacare plan.
Since then, the Parliamentary Budget Officer issued a report using the Quebec government’s public prescription drug plan formulary to estimate universal pharmacare would yield annual savings of $4.2 billion.
A second report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and Canadian Doctors for Medicare used a more efficient model to estimate net annual savings of $11 billion.
Canada is the only developed country in the world with a universal health care program that doesn’t include a universal prescription drug plan. Instead, our multiple-payer system has resulted in the second highest prescription drug costs in the world next to the United States. That’s left 3.5 million Canadians unable to afford their prescriptions.
This past Labour Day, on the heels of a successful bid to expand the Canada Pension Plan, Canada’s unions launched a campaign calling for a national pharmacare plan .
I have read that around 10 per cent of Canadians either do not collect their medications, do no not go to the doctor or take less medication than they should because they cannot afford it. My gut tells me that 10 per cent may be on the low side. I know exactly how they feel because there have been times because I’ve been taking long term medication that I have had to make a choice on income grounds between cutting down, which made me sick, or cutting out, which made me sicker. Choices are stark. Meds or groceries for the family. Meds or utilities. Meds or rent or mortgage. I found a way to get by but my health did suffer. Thankfully things turned around before I had to go the doctor or hospital. Many people are likely imposing more costs on the health system, which they wouldn’t need to.
Healthcare is the biggest ticket item on the budget. But when two reports conclude that making medication available for everyone for free is either $11 billion cheaper a year or $4.2 billion cheaper a year with a likelihood that the savings are going to be somewhere between then a national pharmacare program has to be a no brainer. Doesn’t it?