Recently, a concerned parent pointed me to a film being shown to his child's sixth grade class, called The Story of Stuff. The movie, created in 2007, depicts a world in which big corporations, in cahoots with big government, pretty much destroy the entire planet and maliciously poison the environment for their own filthy ends. This is merely one example of how The Story of Stuff misleads.
Our country needs a pharmaceuticals strategy that's more than just low-cost drug coverage. Unfortunately, when the Harper government -- which has consistently treated collaboration with the provinces and territories as both obscene and objectionable -- came to power, it walked away from a national pharmaceuticals strategy. As a result, instead of being eight years in on making prescription drugs more accessible, and safer, millions in our country -- as many as one-in-ten Canadians -- cannot afford the medication they need.
As part of their struggle with budget realities and the growing cost of health care, Canada's provinces continue to work on bulk purchasing agreements for pharmaceuticals as a way to save money. Unfortunately, the recent release from the Council of the Federation (the council of Canada's premiers) suffers from the typical one-sided approach that characterizes much of the drug policy discussion. Yes, there are up front savings to be had. But there's no such thing as a free lunch.
Bulk purchasing of pharmaceuticals has attracted significant attention of late as Canada's provinces work to balance access to medicines and their benefits with budgetary realities. Unfortunately for Canadians, insufficient consideration is being given to the tradeoffs and risks associated with bulk purchasing agreements.
New medicines are a central component of modern medical care. Unfortunately for Canadians, our federal government takes an approach that is slower than others, unnecessarily costly for taxpayers, and is ultimately of questionable benefit to Canadians. Canadian approvals for market access to new drugs take longer than similar approvals in both Europe (under the European Medicines Agency) and the U.S. (under the FDA). Specifically, the median approval time was longer in Canada than in the other jurisdictions in four of the past five years. But would faster approval of new drugs expose us to greater risk? Perhaps.
When it comes to health care, we can clearly see that a cost-cutting approach only works for a while. Given the giant demographic shift underway now, we aren't going to save our way to great health care. Put simply, innovation is not a choice. Improving Canadian competitiveness demands it. Canadians in need of a more sustainable and effective health care system deserve it.
At the recent Council of the Federation meeting, Canadian provinces announced that they will begin bulk-buying different generic drugs to reduce health care costs. Bulk-purchasing is not an option anymore, it is a necessity. Under the current system, patients who pay for drugs out-of-pocket, or those who pay a co-insurance or a deductible, are still paying the full price, and smaller provinces are disadvantaged.
European corporations want to sell Canadians the services we now receive publicly, services such as health care, education, water and mail delivery, and CETA will give these private companies the right to bid on government tenders for goods and services including schools, hospitals, airports, and hydro projects.