Affordable pharmacare the goal of study launched in Federal Budget
A new advisory panel will be tasked with examining access to pharmacare as Canadians continue to pay some of the highest prices for prescription drugs in advanced countries.
Led by former Ontario Health Minister Dr. Eric Hoskins, the panel will study the patchwork of systems currently at work throughout provinces and territories. The panel will also examine international models in an attempt to foster better access to prescriptions across a wider population.
“It’s not acceptable that a significant subset of the population does not have access to pharmaceutical products,” Finance Minister Bill Morneau said following the release of the federal budget Tuesday. “Our goal is to do this in a way that gets at that gap.”
At least one in 10 Canadians cannot afford the prescription drugs they need and those who can pay face some of the highest costs among OECD nations. Canadians spent more than $30 billion in 2016 to fill over 600 million prescriptions, according to the Canadian Pharmacists Association. And nearly one million Canadians each year give up food and heat in order to pay for medicine.
Provinces and territories currently have full discretion to distribute health care funding through the Canada Health Transfer program. This year the amount divvied up among the provinces will rise to $38.6 billion. Among countries with universal public health care, Canada is the only one whose plan does not include prescription drug coverage.
No timelines were provided on when the panel — called the Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare — will report on its findings.
“We don’t have an answer on exactly when,” Morneau said, adding that Hoskins had only taken up his position a day before.
The challenge of making prescription drugs affordable and available to all Canadians has proven difficult. Canada is the third highest per capita spender on medicines among OECD nations but nearly 3.5 million Canadians lack even basic drug coverage.
Canada is currently the only country whose universal public health care whose plan does not include prescription drug coverage. The Canadian Centre for policy Alternatives has urged the government to introduce a national pharmacare program with a single payer to negotiate prices.
The government has proposed changes to the Patented Medicines Regulations – amendments it expects to lower drug prices by $12.6 billion over 10 years. The Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance, which includes federal and provincial governments, negotiates on behalf of Canada’s public drug plans to lower prices on brand name and generic drugs.
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