Canadians understandably take pride in having a public health-care system. However, Canada is the only developed country with a universal health-care system that does not include prescription drug benefits for everyone.
What does this mean for Canadian citizens?
It means, for those of us who have private drug coverage, that we pay about 22 per cent of our drug costs out of our own pocket. It means that 3.6 million Canadians have inadequate coverage for prescription medication and one in 10 must choose between buying groceries and filling a prescription.
It means that Canadian companies spend about $200 million per week on prescription drug costs incurred in employer-provided benefit plans and this expense increases annually. It means that the cost of prescription drugs for Canadians is the second highest in the world and rising substantially each year, with large profits going to big drug companies.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer showed in a September 2017 report that the federal government could save $4 billion by implementing a national pharmacare program and also improve the health of Canadians. The Canadian Press reported “The savings would come largely from the bulk purchasing of drugs, allowing Health Canada to negotiate better prices for most pharmaceuticals, as well as an increase in the use of generic drugs.” Other studies not limited to using the Quebec formulary have projected Canada-wide savings up to $11 billion from implementing national pharmacare.
At a time when all levels of government are looking to cut runaway health costs, why would our federal and provincial governments not be pushing for the economies of scale that government bulk purchasing of medicines could provide? In Canada, a year’s supply of Lipitor (cholesterol medication) costs more than $800, but in New Zealand, where a public authority negotiates drug prices, it costs $15 a year. Is it not better policy for our provincial minister of health and his officials to aggressively advocate and negotiate for significant cost savings provided through centralized drug purchasing rather than cut medical staff and services in Newfoundland and Labrador?
This would be in line with the federal Liberals’ campaign proposal of a national formulary for the bulk buying of pharmaceuticals, which the prime minister has written into the mandate letter of the federal minister of health. We must let our elected officials know that we need the cost savings now that national pharmacare can provide. And we will support a government that takes action to improve the health of Canadians by providing access to medications, regardless of ability to pay.
On Saturday, Jan. 27, come write a letter in support of pharmacare and reduced drug costs for all of us. We will have the pens, paper and information for you. Join us in the community room at Sobeys, Merrymeeting Road, St. John’s from 1 to 4 p.m.
Council of Canadians
– St. John’s Chapter