Pharmacare is within our grasp

We want it and it’s affordable, so what’s stopping a national drug plan? Canada is the only country with universal health care without the corresponding drug plan.

2014-06-17-danielle-martin

Dr. Danielle Martin, one of authors

A poll from Ekos conducted in 2013 found that over three-quarters of Canadians want a universal drug plan, with the greatest support from British Columbia.

The argument has always been that we simply can’t afford it. Too expensive. Not so –it would be even cheaper than what we now have.

A recent study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, indicates that we could save $7.3 billion, the exact number dependent on how much can be saved through bulk purchases of drugs.

Authors of the peer-reviewed study were blown away by their investigations. “When we did the analysis, we were, at first, a little bit surprised,” said Steven Morgan, a professor of health policy at UBC. “Wow. Canada can really save billions of dollars by covering everybody for virtually every drug? And then we started to look deeper at the math, and it made perfect sense,” he told CBC news.

Here’s how the numbers crunch. We would save about twenty per cent on the bulk purchase of generic and brand-name drugs. Another ten per cent can be saved by encouraging more cost-effective prescribing . “Mine those three things together, you save thirty per cent of a very large budget.”

Canadians now pay about $22 billion a year on prescription drugs.  If Canada put all of that spending under one single-payer program, a universal drug plan would cost $7.3 billion less per year — a savings of thirty-two per cent.

Universal pharmacare would reduce payroll costs for business. It would save the private sector $8.2 billion annually that it now spends on prescription drugs, mainly through employee health plans.

You would think that reducing payroll costs would be something the Harper Conservatives would glom on to. But, this being an election year, they’re playing their cards close to the vest.

Health Minister Rona Ambrose wouldn’t say whether she would favour a pharmacare program. However, she does favour a bulk purchasing system instead of every province and territory buying drugs for their plans separately”We don’t know who is paying what in one part of the country compared to the other sometimes, and I think to some extent we are getting ripped off.” No kidding.

Canada currently has one of the most expensive systems in the world, says Dr. Morgan. With all those social and economic benefits, a national pharmacare should be something all federal parties can agree on. But something so sensible doesn’t fit into the wedge issues of party politics.

Despite compelling evidence to the contrary, despite being in favour of the idea, a suspicious public is all to eager to believe it costs too much. Medical commentator Dr. Brian Goldman favours the plan but: “In our current political climate, right or wrong, all anyone has to say is that pharmacare is a boondoggle that will be paid for with higher taxes, and most Canadians will say ‘no, thanks.'” Politics trumps truth again.

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