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Fair pharmacare now

Catherine Gendron

June 3, 2015

With the Harper Government rejecting its role of strengthening and renegotiating the expired Canada Health Accord, the promised national pharmacare plan has too been dodged.

Yet reports have recently explained that we would save billions of dollars by introducing a national pharamcare plan: $7.3 billion per year to be exact. What a relief it would be to the millions of people who require medicine and yet cannot afford their medical needs.

As of 2012, one in four people across Canada who do not have drug insurance are unable to afford their prescribed medication; even with insurance, one in ten are still unable to afford their medicine. The working class and the poor are especially affected; even with insurance, the cost for dispensing fees, co-payments and deductibles adds up. And the future does not look bright: most people attain drug insurance through their workplace, yet with a growth in precarious employment, this option is becoming less and less feasible.

What this means is that millions are not getting the assistance they need to ensure good health, and/or many are cutting costs by skipping doses. All of these options are dangerous to peoples’ health.

What happens when people are not getting the medical assistance they need? Other areas of the healthcare system rise in cost. Dr. Danielle Martin, previous Chair of the Canadian Doctors for Medicare, explains: “Providing prescription drugs for free is not only the right thing to do, it also makes economic sense in many situations. A small cost outlay can sometimes prevent higher costs in the future.”

Big Pharma, big costs

The current disordered and inequitable system of provincial drug plans does little to prevent skyrocketing drug costs. Every year, spending on prescription medications increases by eight per cent above inflation—and this is not sustainable. A large factor for these high costs owes to the Mulroney government's gift to pharmaceutical companies: they were promised extended monopolies over their drugs in exchange for research, yet this decision has proven to be a terrible one.  

Michael Geist, an expert in intellectual-property law at the University of Ottawa commented, “It is striking how the industry has for years now failed to meet its commitment...It’s fairly clear that (extending patent protection) is in a sense a cash grab … The one thing it doesn't do is lead to any serious commitment to conduct new research in Canada.” By extending patents, pharmaceutical companies are able to make record profits while placing higher burdens on the people who need prescription drugs. 

People across Canada are known to have immense pride for their healthcare system that is supposed to be universal, yet many are unaware of the huge gaps in coverage. Canada is alone in its provision of universal healthcare while simultaneously ignoring coverage for prescription drugs. This is not how a universal healthcare system is supposed to work.

If we truly want equitable access to good healthcare, we need to ensure the Canada Health Accord is renegotiated and expanded with a guaranteed national pharmacare program.

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