MP touts new Pharmacare Act as a health game changer in Canada

Pharmacare Act is needed

Last week Canada took another major step forward truly universal healthcare with the tabling of the (NDP-prompted) Pharmacare Act.

When fully implemented this legislation will allow all Canadians to use their health card to obtain their prescription drugs, just as they use it to see a doctor or use hospital facilities. It will also save Canada as much as $10 billion or more every year through the power of a single payer for prescription drugs and reduced health care costs because Canadians will simply be healthier.

Our present pharmacare system is a patchwork of coverage, paid for by federal and provincial governments, businesses and individual Canadians. There are more than 100 public, and tens of thousands of private, insurance plans. That means we have no bargaining power at all with big pharmaceutical companies and, not surprisingly, end up paying the second highest drug costs in the world.

Countries that have single-payer models pay much less. New Zealand pays one-tenth of what we pay for some common prescription drugs.

Why is that important? Well, for one thing, about 20% of Canadians simply can’t afford to buy medicines prescribed to them by their doctor because of high costs. That not only impacts their health directly, but it also clogs up our health care system as more people end up in emergency rooms and hospital wards. So it adds billions of dollars in health care costs that could have been avoided if people had access to free prescription medications.

The new Pharmacare Act also adds coverage for contraceptives and diabetes medications and devices. The contraceptive coverage copies what was brought in by the B.C. NDP government a month ago. The diabetes coverage is critically important to the 20% of Canadians who suffer from the disease, a number that has doubled in the last 20 years.

Diabetes causes 30% of strokes in Canada, 40% of heart attacks, 50% of kidney failure. It is also the leading cause of blindness. Most critically, about 7,000 Canadians, many of them young people, die every year as a direct result of diabetes. Many of these diabetic complications are caused by poor management of the disease because many Canadians cannot afford the devices and tests that are necessary, or even afford the insulin.

The new Pharmacare Act is a necessary step to implement a universal, public, single-payer pharmacare system in Canada. Like the universal health care coverage we’ve all enjoyed since Tommy Douglas’ (Saskatchewan government) first brought it into effect in Canada more than 60 years ago, it will require negotiations with the provinces, because they share responsibility for health care in our country.

This act is a framework for those negotiations. It sets out the ground rules for a national pharmacare plan in which the federal government will be the single buyer of prescription drugs. There will obviously be some spirited discussions with provincial governments, as there was with our original health care system. But pharmacare is such an obvious benefit for all Canadians and all provinces and territories, I’m sure we will see clear progress on that front.

We should see the plan in place with coverage for diabetes and contraceptives by the end of this year.

The big pharmaceutical companies, that have been gouging us for too long, may not approve, but for the rest of us, a universal, public pharmacare program will keep us all healthier and save us billions in the bargain.

Richard Cannings is the NDP MP for South Okanagan-West Kootenay.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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