Pharmacare should be a federal election issue

Posted on February 18, 2015 in Health Policy Context – Opinion/Editorials – Like medicare, pharmacare should be a fundamental right for all Canadians
Feb 17 2015.   Editorial

If you visit the doctor, go to the hospital, or undergo an operation, the costs are covered by medicare. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Why then are we refusing to pay for another basic component of good health care: prescription medicines? Like care from a good physician, they can heal the sick, keep people from developing illnesses, and avoid costly operations and stays in hospital.

But prescription drugs aren’t covered under medicare. As a result, as a new study shows, many of the poor go without medications they need to stay healthy and even survive.

The study from the Wellesley Institute, a Toronto-based health policy think-tank, makes clear that the vast majority of those in precarious or low-wage jobs do not have employer-provided health plans that cover such basics as prescription drugs, eye checkups or dental care.

Overall, the study found that 35 per cent of workers do not have employer-provided health plans. That number rose to 85 per cent for those earning less than $10,000 and 70 per cent for those earning between $10,000 and $20,000.

It also found that about 9 per cent of people don’t fill medical prescriptions simply because of the cost.

We already know the high costs of not having a national, universal pharmacare program.

Failing to provide people with the drugs they need can drive up health costs if they fall seriously ill and must be treated in hospital. And beyond that, as the Star has argued before, there other important considerations at play.

For example, a national pharmacare program would allow the government to negotiate lower drug costs with manufacturers. That would save up to $11.4 billion a year, according to a report commissioned by the Canadian Federation of Nurses last year. And just having a single-payer system would save $1 billion a year by eliminating the duplication of legal, technical and administrative costs, according to the C.D. Howe Institute.

Pharmacare would also mean savings for employers who now provide health care coverage to their employees.

While it all adds up to a lot of savings for the Canadian economy, most importantly it should be a fundamental, universal right.

As Eric Hoskins, Ontario’s health minister and a proponent of a national pharmacare program, argued last year: “No Canadian should have to choose between putting food on the table or filling their latest prescription.”

It’s high time Canada had a national pharmacare system. This year’s federal election is an ideal time for voters to demand it.

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