Several national commissions on Canada's health care system have recommended adding prescription drugs to our publicly funded universal medicare system. No federal government has ever acted on those recommendations. Not yet, anyhow. By creating 'pharmacare-junior,' Premier Wynne and Minister Hoskins are in essence calling on the federal government to help finish the job and create a pharmacare program for all Canadians of all ages.
Unlike any comparable country, Canada's universal public health care system effectively ends as soon as a patient is handed a prescription to fill. Millions of Canadians have no drug coverage at all and millions more have coverage that is inadequate to ensure access to medicines.
Financial barriers to filling necessary prescriptions result in worse health for patients. They also result in increased use of taxpayer-finance hospital and medical care. In other words, they don't save anybody money in the long run.
The glaring gaps in drug coverage for Canadian children are made stranger by the economic dimensions of the issue. Children's health care represents a drop in the ocean of health care budgets -- extending universal drug coverage to children would constitute a small fraction of total pharmaceutical spending.
Cities have to spend this money, taken from local taxpayers, because Canada's medicare system is the only universal, public health care system among developed countries that does not include universal coverage of prescription drugs. It is not wrong for cities to care for their employees. But leaving these costs to the cities makes about as much sense as requiring every homeowner to maintain the roads and infrastructure surrounding their property. Here's why.
Businesses care about the health and well-being of the Canadian workforce. Employees that can afford the medicines as and when prescribed will be healthier, happier, and more productive. In this election year, it is time for Canada's business leaders to call for universal, public pharmacare.
A growing number of health professionals, patients, community groups and even politicians are calling for national pharmacare. But many Canadians likely wonder what pharmacare is and whether Canada is ready for it.
The Liberal government of New Brunswick appears to be stepping back from the brink of mandatory prescription drug insurance. And so they should. The drug plan chosen by the Conservatives was designed on a false premise: that the private sector can better manage things than government can. In many sectors, that might be true. But not in health care.
Rather than placing a tax on health needs -- as income-based drug plans do -- Ontario should consider a more positive road to universal pharmacare. Specifically, it should consider tax financing a universal drug benefit program that would give non-seniors the same coverage elderly residents enjoy today.
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.
The slowdown in total spending on prescriptions in Canada masks dramatic changes in the pharmaceutical sector. Beneath the calm surface lies a rapid decline in spending on widely used medicines to treat relatively common conditions, and even more dramatic increases in spending on medicines used by relatively few people who suffer from serious conditions.
Our fragmented system of prescription drug financing is the root cause of our troubles. Not recognizing that our pharmacare system (or lack thereof) is designed to fail is costing us billions of dollars every year while many Canadians go without access to the medicines they need.
The Alberta government has announced major pharmacare reforms: the province is planning
to move from a system where public drug coverage is available mainly for seniors to a system
where coverage will be restricted based upon income.
A single-payer, universal system would not bankrupt the health care system. Quite the opposite, in fact; we're paying too much for prescription drugs now, and a single-payer system might just be what would save our health care system because it would be cheaper -- a lot cheaper.
The current rush to approve medicines while manufacturers' "patent clocks" are ticking means that some medicines make it to market that later must be recalled because of harms they cause to patients -- harms that could be detected with more thorough pre-market evaluation.