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Universal pharmacare: Why we need it, and how this election may finally get us there

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Like Singh’s NDP, Trudeau is campaigning on a national pharmacare plan. However, it’s important to note that Trudeau, unlike Singh, did not say this plan would be universal, nor does his budget provide sufficient funds. 

The report by the Advisory Council Trudeau appointed clearly states that “fill the gaps” alternatives to universal pharmacare would do little to lower drug prices or create more equitable access to prescription medications. We have public opinion on our side. A 2019 Environics poll found that 88% of respondents agree a universal pharmacare is better than targeted programs. 

So given that targeted programs are clearly not going to cut it, how realistic is the main alternative to targeted programs, a universal pharmacare plan?

Discussions relating to the implementation of a universal pharmacare plan are often focused on how to pay for it. What many of these discussions are missing, however, is a reasonable and practical solution. It is certainly worthwhile then, to consider the cost of the current prescription medication system and compare it to a universal pharmacare plan.

Canada is the only member country of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development that has universal healthcare that excludes prescription drug coverage. As a result, prescription drugs are paid for by a mix of private and public payments. In Canada, drug costs are the fastest-growing health expenditure—they recently surpassed physician costs. With recent negotiations of NAFTA extending the patent protection for biologic drugs from 8 to 10 years, this problem is only expected to get worse

A universal pharmacare plan, on the other hand, would save money and yield more benefits. 

In 2015, Canadians spent $28.5 billion on prescription drugs. Of this, $24.6 billion would likely be covered under a universal pharmacare plan. The Parliamentary Budget Officer, a provider of independent, non-partisan economic analysis, found that a universal pharmacare plan would cost $20.4 billion, meaning $4.2 billion in savings for Canadians. 

See also: Faces of Pharmacare – “Many people are too sick to advocate”

How can we get more medication for less money? Collective bargaining and generic drugs. That way, it’s easy to answer the age-old question of “where do we get the money?”. 

If the money Canadians spend on medication was given to the government instead of directly to the drug companies, we would save $4.2 billion per year. So the better question is, how can we afford not to provide universal pharmacare?

It is important to remember that a universal pharmacare plan would be funded by a progressive taxation system. Meaning that those that have more, pay more. This allows us to shift a greater burden of medication costs onto the wealthy rather than the sick, just as we do with medicare.

Along with saving Canadians billions of dollars each year, a universal pharmacare plan also helps ensure that everyone receives the medication they need. 

So why has a universal pharmacare plan not been implemented? For one, it puts $8,000/minute of industry profits at risk. To be frank, this issue is about whether a given political party is willing to take on the greed of the pharmaceutical and private health insurance industries.

With the federal election approaching, it’s important to think strategically about how a Universal Pharmacare plan could be achieved. A Liberal minority government propped up by the NDP is our best chance at achieving this. Then we will ensure all Canadians receive the medications they need, while saving the average family of four more than $500 per year

Drug coverage should have been included in medicare when it started over 50 years ago, but better late than never. With the two larger political parties more interested in industry profits than lowering drug costs, we must empower an alternative that will put the interest of the average Canadian first.

See also: Brandon Doucet: It’s time for free dental care for all Nova Scotians

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