Ontario has been the site of dueling pharmacare proposals and Canadians are the victors. At the end of April, the opposition NDP promised universal drug coverage for a list of essential medicines. Not to be outdone, the ruling Liberal party announced universal coverage for all drugs on the provincial formulary for youth under 25 years of age. Most health policy experts praised both proposals, myself included.
Eight provincial health ministers organized a roundtable with healthcare professionals and academic experts on June 8 to discuss how we should transform drug coverage in Canada and several are now calling for a national pharmacare program. The question now is, what kind?
A 2013 EKOS poll showed that 78 per cent of Canadians are in favour of establishing a universal pharmacare program in Canada. In spite of self-serving lobby groups who insist that the current system is working well and should not be reformed, establishing a national drug plan is the best thing to do for patients, for employers, for employees, for taxpayers, and for the Canadian economy.
It is always a pleasure for me to openly discuss and debate issues surrounding drug coverage with experts in the field. In a series of three blogs, an economist from the Montreal Economic Institute, Yanick Labrie, criticizes my work on Canadian pharmaceutical policy. Unfortunately, these criticisms are ill-founded and do not contribute to a better understanding of these issues.
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.
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.