Don’t write a blank cheque for drugs

Posted on December 15, 2010 in Health Debates

Source: — Authors: – news/opinions/editorial
Published Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2010. Last updated Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2010.

Even as a long-term goal, the federal Liberals’ proposal that pharmaceuticals – and what they call the entire continuum of care – should be governed by the Canada Health Act is not financially sustainable.

The Official Opposition has recently made a habit of having three of its MPS make similar speeches in three different cities about one policy area. On Tuesday, the topic was health care; Ujjal Dosanjh, the Liberals’ health critic, Carolyn Bennett and Hedy Fry – the latter two are physicians – were the speakers.

They all cited a survey that found that one in 10 Canadians said they had not filled a prescription because they could not afford it. Indeed, the contrast between the different types of coverage and non-coverage of medications, on the one hand, and a single-payer system, on the other, can have anomalous, and sometimes oppressive results, particularly for the working poor and employees of small businesses. In a sense, two-tier health care is as old as universal Canadian medicare itself – not just an evil spectre.

But the sweeping language of the three Liberal MPs – variously, that pharmaceuticals should eventually be brought “into the Canada Health Act,” or brought “formally into our understanding of medicare” – rashly conjures up hopes of comprehensive, single-payer drug coverage, transportable from province to province.

Under medicare’s present scope, the upward cost pressures are hard enough to contain, and it would be foolish for the public treasury to take on the burden of paying for medications on much the same terms.

As for the entire continuum of care that would also move at some point into the domain of the Canada Health Act, the three MPs said this would include home care and chronic care – and presumably quite a bit more.

Rather than differentiate themselves from the Conservatives on specific health-care policies, it is unfortunate that the Liberals have adopted such remote and unrealistic goals.

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