Saving money on drugs

TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorial
Published On Tue Sep 14 2010

The need for a national pharmacare plan, offering universal access to prescription drugs, has long been argued on medical and humanitarian grounds. Since drugs play an increasingly important role in the prevention and treatment of illness, it is inequitable for any Canadian to go without coverage.

Now, however, pharmacare advocates are making a new argument: it would save money. According to a report released yesterday by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, $10.7 billion could be shaved off our annual $25 billion national drug bill by replacing the “jumble” of costly private and provincial drug plans with one efficient public plan. Among other things, the buying power of the national plan would force drug makers to reduce prices. Money would also be saved through a rigorous national process for approving new drugs and the reduction in administration costs from collapsing various public and private drug plans into one.

But pharmacare would also transfer costs currently paid by the private sector, through employee drug plans, to government. That shift is unlikely to gain favour during a time of high federal and provincial deficits.

In fact, despite repeated calls for a national pharmacare program over the last 40 years, Ottawa has shown little interest in pursuing the idea.

Fortunately, however, some of the savings in the report can be achieved without Ottawa’s leadership or adding to deficits.

Last month, the premiers announced plans to set up a national agency that would be responsible for approving and purchasing drugs. On Monday, provincial health ministers worked on the plans at their meeting in St. John’s, Nfld. They are on the right track.

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