On May 31, 2016, the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (CFNU) hosted a breakfast meeting on Parliament Hill, entitled Filling the Prescription: The Case for Pharmacare Now (Provincial and Expert Perspectives). Members of Parliament, Senators and a wide range of health and labour stakeholders came together to hear expert speakers make the compelling case for Canada’s implementing a universal pharmacare program as the next step in the evolution of our health care system.
“Canada’s nurses are setting the table for pharmacare now,” said CFNU president Linda Silas. “We have the evidence, and not only is a national pharmacare plan supported by 91% of Canadians, but it will also generate billions of dollars of savings that can be reinvested back into our health care system to tackle issues like our aging population, mental health, Indigenous health and health human resources issues.”
The event kicked off with Dr. Marc-André Gagnon providing attendees with a fiscal and comparative analysis on drug coverage in Canada. Dr. Gagnon explained that the Canadian pharmaceutical insurance system could be considered an anomaly. Canada has a universal public health insurance system, but is the only country in the world to have excluded prescription drugs from that system, and if Canada paid the same official price for drugs as the OECD median, Canadians would save about 25% on patented drugs.
Former Nova Scotia Deputy Minister of Health and Wellness, Kevin McNamara, provided provincial perspective. He believes that in order to reduce costs – everyone has a role to play, including patients, doctors, governments, Health Canada and private drug plans.
The final speaker, Dr. Steven Morgan, provided a political context, explaining that never before has there been as great an alignment of key players in support of pharmacare, and the lack of action on comprehensive public pharmacare is unacceptable, and Canadians are literally dying as a result. A 2012 study by researchers at the University of Toronto estimated that in Ontario alone, over 700 diabetic patients under the age of 65 died prematurely each year between 2002 and 2008 because of inequitable access to essential prescription drugs. That is like a plane full of Canadians crashing every year, perhaps every month, while governments refuse to take action because of concerns about costs and politics.
Following the presentation, attendees also had the opportunity to participate in a Q&A with the panel.
“We have done the studies, we have compiled the research and we have heard resolutions from several parties, but what we need now is an action plan and a start date,” said Silas. “The time for a national pharmacare plan in Canada is now.”