A lack of pharmacare is making Canada sick

Putting meds in medicare. Sarah Carrier

Canadians forgoing food, heat

In this past federal election, the idea of a pharmacare system – which would extend Canada’s existing national health care in order to cover the cost of individual prescription drugs – was emphasized by the NDP as a major component of their political platform and something they promised to implement within a year of being elected. Even though the NDP didn’t win the election, they brought a significant deal of attention towards the fact that major issues with the Canadian healthcare system need to be addressed. There is still a possibility that pharmacare will be implemented, because not only is it well supported by Canadians, health workers and organizations and political parties, but it also offers major benefits and is seen as realistic way to improve Canada’s problematic health care system.

According to University of Regina Economics professor and former Deputy Minister of Public Health and member of the Advisory Council for the Implementation of Pharmacare (APCIP), John Wright, some of the major problems impacting Canada’s healthcare system are in regards to “access, safety, quality, the labour force, the lack of essential components, like dental, eye and pharmaceutical coverage and the high cost of pharmaceuticals.” Even though some companies and businesses provide medical and healthcare insurance for their employees, “20 per cent of Canadians are still either under-insured, or have no coverage.” This lack of coverage is a major problem because it causes stress, worry and anxiety for many Canadians, especially those already struggling financially, since it forces them to choose between spending their money on expensive prescription drugs, or other important life priorities, like food and shelter. In some cases individuals “forgo food and heat” to pay for their prescription drugs. On the other hand, other individuals opt for other necessities and don’t buy the prescription drugs they require because they simply can’t afford them.  As Wright further explains, this is even more of an issue for individuals who fall between “the ages of 19-25 because many individuals in this age category are under-insured, or not insured at all.” As a result, this creates a strain on our country’s healthcare system. Individuals who don’t buy their prescription drugs often end up with worse health conditions, requiring not only major healthcare treatment, but in some cases hospitalization, which leads to more money being spent by both the individual and our national healthcare system. The worst part is that many of these instances are unnecessary and could have easily been avoided if the medicine had been affordable. Despite this negative healthcare situation, there is a solution with the development of pharmacare because this would extend health care coverage for individual’s pharmaceuticals, giving all Canadians access to the medicine they need with their health card, rather than their credit card.

While Wright believes that the development of pharmacare is necessary and important, he also acknowledges that this “is only one aspect of the healthcare system, ” and that there are many other areas that also need to be addressed in order to fix all the problems that currently exist with Medicare. However, implementing pharmacare  would be “a major first step in terms of [potential] further improvements, especially because it would address issues like fairness, equity, efficiency and pricing.”

Although pharmacare was eliminated from Tommy Douglas’ initial proposal for a universal National Public Health Care system in order for his proposal to pass, there was always the expectation that these elements would be installed later. However, it has been 51 years and this has not happened, despite the various commissions and research studies that have proven that a universal Health Care system that covers pharmaceuticals would be extremely beneficial. This delay in establishing pharmacare is based on multiple factors, including two main ones.

Firstly, implementing Pharmacare is expensive, ranging from $1billion up to $15 billion per year according to what was recommended by the ACIP and depending on how advanced the system is.

Secondly, healthcare is a provincial matter and extending the current healthcare system would mean that the federal government is intruding upon provincial government jurisdiction, which may be problematic and not accepted. However, despite these potential concerns and worries, the benefits that pharmacare would provide would be worth it.

As Wright pointed out “buying pharmaceuticals in bulk [can ensure] lower prices for drugs.” Currently, pharmaceuticals in Canada are the third most expensive in the world. This high cost is largely because each of the 100,000 different Canadian healthcare insurance plans have to negotiate separately with pharmaceutical companies. Having only one plan would allow better and more efficient negotiation, as well as lower price tag.

Additionally, covering prescription drugs would decrease the cost of hospital care because fewer people would need expensive emergency care. Canadian families would save roughly $500 year, which would amount to a national savings amount of around $4.2 billion.

Unfortunately, believing pharmacare could be implemented within a year is an overly optimistic ambition. Wright argues that a year is an unrealistic time frame because it would actually take a lot longer to fully establish pharmacare, since there is a lot involved with implementing such a system. For example, according to the NACIP,  it might take a year of negotiation between the federal and provincial before an agreement is reached and a detailed plan is formed.

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