No-fee Universal Pharmacare to the rescue?

32,000 in Halton Region can’t afford meds

No-fee Universal Pharmacare to the rescue?

According to a study published on Feb. 13 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, 2 million Canadians could not afford at least one drug prescribed to them in 2015, based on a survey of over 120,000 people in Canada. Would no-fee universal pharmacare be the cure?

This means that here in Halton, with a poverty rate just slightly above the provincial average, there would be 32,000 people who couldn’t afford at least one prescription drug in 2015. Statistically, according to the study, this would have led to 5,600 additional doctor visits, emergency room visits or hospital stays in Halton – these almost certainly cost our medical system many times more than the cost of filling these prescriptions. You can view the recently published study.

According to the study, a further 1.2 million people cut back on groceries heating or other expenses to afford their meds. Again, this means in Halton that another 18,000 people were having to cut back to afford decent medical care. So, how do we decrease the suffering of these people and save the health system some money? No-fee Universal Pharmacare is a solution.

Most Canadians support our Universal Health Care system for good reasons. Our Health Care system covers almost every health problem. Unfortunately, Canada is the only developed country with Universal Health Care that does not also have Universal Pharmacare coverage. We have seen significant movement politically in the past few weeks, notably by the federal NDP and the federal Liberals, not to mention the recent under-25 Pharmacare coverage in Ontario, which signals a move toward some type of Pharmacare. Let’s look at some more basic facts before we consider what Universal Pharmacare means and might look like.

While knowing about a health problem is useful, it’s frustrating that the prescription drugs to treat them can be unaffordable for many Canadians. According to the Council of Canadians in 2016, Canadians spent $30B to fill more than 600 million prescriptions. The cost of maintenance drugs, like those used to control high blood pressure, has gone up 58 per cent since 2005. Meanwhile, specialty drugs including those used to treat cancer have skyrocketed 325 per cent. In Canada where we buy our prescription drugs individually, a year’s supply of a one particular drug costs more than $800. In New Zealand, where they have Universal Pharmacare and a public authority negotiates drug prices on be¬half of the entire country. A year’s supply of the same drug costs just $15. Recent studies have estimated the potential savings to be realized with a Universal Pharmacare plan in Canada to be between $4B and $11B.

While many Canadians have some form of prescription drug coverage, most of us pay a portion of the cost, and some of us pay the entire cost. Seniors over age 65 and youths under age 25 in Ontario now have Pharmacare. Millions of other Ontarians have no prescription drug coverage at all.

The Council of Canadians and many other organizations including the Canadian Nurses Association, the Canadian Labour Congress and Canadian Doctors for Medicare, prescribe No-Fee Universal Pharmacare as a remedy for the high cost of prescription drugs to ensure equity among all citizens.

The Oakville Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, released a policy report called ‘Principles for an Effective Pharmacare Program’, which suggests guidelines for the federal and Ontario governments to follow when considering reforms to pharmaceutical coverage.

The five key principles stated in the Oakville and Ontario Chambers of Commerce report are:

  1. Existing gaps in pharmaceutical coverage are identified and addressed to improve access to medications for those who need it
  2. The strengths of the public-private system are leveraged
  3. The program is outcomes-oriented and promotes the sustainability and efficacy of the broader health care system
  4. Patients can access their medications in a timely manner
  5. Broad and appropriate access to innovative medications is ensured

Hard to argue with any of these principles, except perhaps the second one. This is where most of the controversy and discussion is likely to take place, both with respect to health-care content, and the political and commercial implications of different solutions.

On the one hand, the current private system for prescription drug coverage, with higher than necessary prescription drug prices and a central role for private insurance companies, could be expanded. This type of system exists in Quebec and other countries such as France, with no reduction in drug prices and substantial fees often payable, even by low income recipients.

On the other hand, the public system could be strengthened and, using the free market of the private sector, that drug prices and other healthcare costs could be lowered. Costs could be lowered by minimizing the role of private insurance companies and having a single purchaser (or few purchasers) of prescription drugs which would enable much lower drug prices (such as those in New Zealand which negotiates drug prices as a single buyer). The private sector would save billions of dollars as there would be no further costs for prescription drugs for their employees or the associated insurance premiums. Employees would save any copayment associated with these prescription drug benefits. There would be a cost to the taxpayer, but overall a net benefit of billions of dollars, according to informed experts. Lots of room for discussion there!

If you want to find out more about how Universal Pharmacare can save money and improve the quality of life in our community, you can join the Halton Chapter of the Council of Canadians on Monday March 5, 2018 from 7 to 9 PM, for a town hall meeting called “PharmaCare for All – Why Not?” at the Art Gallery of Burlington, 1333 Lakeshore Road in Burlington. The event is free. Everyone is welcome.

Keynote speakers Maude Barlow, Honorary Chair of the Council of Canadians and Professor Emeritus Brian Hutchison of the Centre for Health Economics and Policy Analysis at McMaster University will explain the benefits of Universal Pharmacare. Afterwards, the keynote speakers and a panel of experts including a pharmacist and a health benefits professional will engage in a lively town hall question and answer session regarding the costs and benefits of Universal Pharmacare.


, , , ,