The Alward government has just adopted pharmacare reforms that have great potential to do good -- and great potential to cost New Brunswickers far more than it should. The New Brunswick drug plan bears little resemblance to catastrophic drug plans in other provinces. That is a good thing.
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.
Universal pharmacare does not mean an "open bar" for everybody; it means leveraging buying power and using market forces in order to contain drug costs, achieve sustainability and improve the health outcomes of the population.
Drug shortages remain a source of headache for health professionals throughout the country. Policies that artificially lower prices end up making the production of certain prescription drugs simply unprofitable. In the long run, this situation has the effect of pressuring several pharmaceutical companies to abandon the production of drugs whose profit margins are too small and reallocate their resources to the production of others with a better chance of being profitable. We are missing our target if, by trying to ensure that drugs are safe and sold at low prices, we create shortages.
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.