The following commentary appeared in the Telegraph Journal on Tuesday, July 17, 2018.
As most of us are coping with the heat by heading for the shade and grabbing a cool drink, Canada’s provincial and territorial premiers are gathering in St. Andrews this week to get down to business. Besides our escalating trade dispute with the United States, we can also expect pharmacare to figure prominently.
As nurses have been saying for decades, national pharmacare is a common-sense and long-overdue measure that will be good for patients, public health care and taxpayers. It is truly a policy that premiers of all political stripes should support.
The Chair of the Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare, Dr. Eric Hoskins, will be on hand, alongside Canada’s nurses, to engage premiers on the health-related, federal and fiscal issues at stake. The Advisory Council is kicking off its work consulting stakeholders throughout the summer at roundtables expected to land in major cities across the country.
Our current patchwork system of prescription drug coverage is, quite simply, an inefficient, expensive mess. With more than 100,000 private and public plans across the country, Canada’s per capita prescription drug prices have risen to the third highest in the world. We are wasting $7.3 billion per year, or $14,000 squandered health care dollars every minute of every day, as a result of this bloated and inefficient system.
As millions of Canadians struggle to afford the medications they desperately need, pharmaceutical companies and private insurance companies are lining their pockets by selling drugs at different rates to different buyers, and charging employers, unions and employees to administer private drug plans. Even more disturbing, a recent study released by the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions confirms what nurses have long known: our current system is costing lives each and every day, while worsening the health of tens of thousands every year.
Decades of research confirm that pooling our resources and bargaining power in a single, universal drug plan will result in efficiencies and savings to the tune of between $4 and $11 billion per year in monies already being spent. These funds could be re-invested to improve our health care system in much-needed areas, such as seniors’ and longterm care, home care, mental health and services for Indigenous communities.
Canada’s premiers know that providing public health care is a complex and resource-intensive undertaking – after all, they are already responsible for administering it. They should look to the federal government to shoulder a greater burden to help fix our broken system of drug coverage and realize the efficiencies of a single plan.
As we move to a fully public drug plan, provinces will need the federal government to play a strong role by funding a significant portion of the plan and ensuring system savings are fairly distributed. Nurses join premiers in calling for strong federal leadership, and the funding commitment to back it up.
Canada’s provinces and territories should no longer have to go it alone managing the system of prescription coverage for Canadians. Pharmacare was always meant to be a key pillar of our national, public, universal health care system.
Indeed, Canada remains the only developed country in the world with a universal health care program that doesn’t also have a universal prescription drug plan.
While the pressing issues for premiers will no doubt emerge during their meeting this week, what remains clear is this: despite our often stark political differences, we have powerful reasons to work together to realize national pharmacare with a steady federal hand.
Linda Silas is President of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions.