Labour Views: Pharmacare

October 3, 2017

Pharmacare helps workers and employers

Canada remains the only country in the world with a universal health care system that doesn’t include coverage for prescription drugs. Three million Canadians are unable to afford their prescribed medication and 9 in 10 Canadians support having a National Public Drug Plan that provides universal access to prescription drugs. It’s time we made this a reality.

Too many Canadians pay out-of-pocket for prescriptions because they don’t have a prescription drug plan or their plan doesn’t cover the full cost. In Canada’s North, out-of-pocket expenses for prescription medications pose even more of a constraint because living expenses such as food, transportation, and rent are so much higher than in other provinces.

One in 10 Canadians can’t afford their prescription drugs and others are facing grim trade-offs between buying their needed prescription drugs, and food or rent. Nobody should be forced to choose between paying for groceries and or paying for the medication they need. That’s why Canada’s unions are calling on the federal government to establish a single-payer, universal prescription drug plan, in coordination with all the provinces and territories.

In October 2014, Dr. Eric Hoskin was Ontario’s Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, Dr. Eric Hoskin stated:  “Right now, despite our best efforts, Canada and the provincial/territorial governments pay more for medications than most other Western countries. To help frame the inflated prices we pay, there may be no better analogy than asking yourself if you’d pay $60 bucks for a cup of coffee at Tim Horton’s? We’d certainly all scoff at that number, but compared to other countries, this is the value gap Canadians face when it comes to drug prices.”

The amount we’re overpaying varies by drug. For some drugs, the difference is huge: while Ontario pays 62.5 cents for one 20 mg tablet of simvastatin, New Zealand pays 1.8 cents.  That means Ontarians pay 36 times more than New Zealanders for the same drug – just like the costly coffee.  Ontario’s public drug program spent 6.7 million on 20 mg tablets of simvastatin in 2009. At the best international price, the province would have spent $0.3 million – a savings of $6.4 million.

The savings possible from a national pharmacare program would be positive and almost immediate – and would provide essential new health dollars that could be reinvested back into the system.

Along with saving precious public funds, universal public coverage of every one of the top 100 generics would save $87 million in public funds if we got the best international prices. It would also benefit everyone by saving employers and individuals $158 million off their prescription drug bill.

Working towards competitive generic drug pricing is essential. It is time to seize the opportunity to make drug coverage more comprehensive for all Canadians. It makes both health sense and financial sense. Let’s not order any more $60 coffees.

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