Momentum is building for universal coverage for prescription drugs. (www.canstockphoto.com)
Prepare for a wave of misinformation about the costs of providing universal pharmaceutical coverage in Canada, especially now that momentum appears to be building towards the idea.
The most recent endorsement comes in the form of an editorial in the Globe and Mail Sunday which strongly supports universal access. “It makes no sense to divorce pharmaceutical treatment from the principal of universality,” the Globe states. “More and more health care is pharmaceutical care and Canada is the only developed country with universal health insurance that doesn’t provide full coverage for medications.”
The Toronto Star made its own endorsement in an editorial November 28, calling pharmacare “medicare’s unfinished chapter.”
An endorsement by the Globe is likely a stand-in for approval from Bay Street – not entirely a surprise given the obvious advantages to employers. Drugs are the largest benefit cost they face and the premiums have been escalating faster than inflation. The overall savings of a universal public plan – estimated to be as much as $10.7 billion annually – would easily offset any tax adjustments (if any) necessary to cover such a plan. Those savings represent about five per cent of all health spending – both public and private.
The Globe is endorsing the idea of universality, but has so far reserved comment on a publicly administered system suggesting more study is needed.
UBC professor Steve Morgan has been writing a series of excellent BLOGs on Healthy Debate this month about the need for Pharmacare in Canada.
As Morgan stated last November, our Medicare system stops the minute a doctor writes a prescription.
While organized labour has been reasonably successful in getting pharmaceutical coverage for their members, one in ten Canadians do not fill prescriptions due to cost. This is much higher than many of the countries and health care systems we frequently compare ourselves (with the exception of the United States). The impact is often felt as symptoms get worse without medication and the patient makes greater use of the public health system as a result.
Morgan is among the organizers of a national symposium at the end of February in Vancouver on the subject, arguing that Canada pays a significant premium for drugs by not moving to a universal model.
“We are probably the only country in the world that offers a universal healthcare system of financing that excludes prescription drugs,” he said in November.
If we moved to the Pharmacare system Germany has, for example, Canadians would collectively save $4 billion in drug costs. If we moved to the UK model, the savings would be on the order of $10 billion. If the government is serious about sustainability of health care, this should be a wake up call.
To watch Morgan’s 10-minute speech from last November, click on the window below. Also included is one of the excellent short videos posted in the run up to Morgan’s Vancouver symposium later this winter. The link to Healthy Debate is also on our blogroll to the right.