10 things we learned from last week’s Ottawa conference on drug coverage hosted by the Canadian Health Coalition and Carleton University:
1. The University of British Columbia’s Steven Morgan noted that if Canada were to adopt the UK’s public drug plan without any changes, it would “be enough to pay for universal Pharmacare in Canada at current rates. We would not have to increase taxes.” Carleton University’s Marc Andre Gagnon says Canada could save $10.7 billion on pharmaceutical costs with a universal drug plan. The question is not can we afford universal drug coverage, but can we afford not to?
2. We’ve reported in several posts on how Canada and the U.S. are outliers when it comes to a universal drug plan for our citizens. This has been the case for a very long time. The international panel noted many countries adopted universal access to prescriptions shortly after World War II. France adopted its social insurance system in 1945 while Britain was a few years behind in starting the National Health System in 1948, quickly adding prescriptions to it in 1952. More recent Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland abolished all prescription charges, whereas England charges about 5 per cent co-pay on the cost of drugs in its Pharmacare program.
3. New Zealand has among the lowest drug costs in the world. They do this by placing a cap on total drug spending and making pharmaceutical companies bid on a share of that pie. The drawback is it does tend to slow the speed in which expensive new drugs become available, but does succeed in providing universal access to needed medications. There is a small co-pay of about $5 per prescription. There is no co-pay after 20 prescriptions are filled annually. There is practically no private coverage for pharmaceuticals in New Zealand. According to Matthew Brougham, former CEO of PHARMAC, New Zealand has been able to limit the increase in drug pricing over the last decade to 3 per cent per year compared to 9-10 per cent increases worldwide. While Canadian politicians claim they cannot afford to introduce Pharmacare, New Zealand adopted such a system precisely because the country was in dire economic circumstances.
4. The lack of universal drug coverage in Canada has not been for want of evidence or trying. Dr. Joel Lexchin of York University noted in his opening remarks that the Hall Commission recommended it in 1964, the National Health Forum did so in 1997, and it is now policy for both the federal Liberals and NDP. Lexchin says Canada’s Pharmaceutical policy resembles the U.S. health care system – some private coverage, some public, and a lot of people who have nothing. “This is not a pie in the sky scheme,” he said, noting Saskatchewan formerly had universal drug coverage.