Provinces increase pressure on federal government for pharmacare

Posted on June 9, 2015 in Health Policy Context – News/Queen’s Park – Emboldened by the looming federal election, the provinces and territories are stepping up the pressure on Ottawa to finally move forward on a national pharmacare program.
Jun 08 2015.   By: Robert Benzie, Queen’s Park Bureau Chief

Emboldened by the looming federal election, the provinces and territories are stepping up pressure on Ottawa to finally move forward on a national pharmacare program.

Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins on Monday convened a meeting with his counterparts from across the country to determine how to best deliver medically necessary drugs to Canadians in the most efficient and cost-effective way.  “A national pharmacare program is in the interest of our patients and of all Canadians,” Hoskins, a family doctor, told reporters at the Sheraton Centre conference.

“The purpose of today’s roundtable is to listen and to learn and to look at this issue from all viewpoints,” he said, noting eight of 13 provincial and territorial health ministers participated in person or by phone.

Hoskins said he was “disappointed” federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose, who met with her sub-national counterparts on the subject last fall in Banff, was not in Toronto for the discussion due to a scheduling conflict.
But the Ontario minister said with a federal election expected Oct. 19, it’s a prudent time to be talking.

“Certainly I think we have an opportunity, given this is an election year federally, to put and keep this on the agenda,” said Hoskins, emphasizing he was “encouraged” by Ambrose’s previous enthusiasm for such a program.
“It’s important that they be at the table.”

Newfoundland Health Minister Steve Kent said Ottawa has “a critical role to play” in ensuring such a national program can be implemented.  “This is not something, quite frankly, that provinces and territories can do on their own,” said Kent.  “A year when there’s a federal election happening is an ideal time to get all political parties in this country focused on national pharmacare.”

When the provincial and territorial premiers gather for their annual Council of the Federation meeting in St. John’s next month, the program will be front and centre.

A Canadian Medical Association Journal study in March found a national pharmacare regimen could reduce public and private spending on prescription drugs by $7.3 billion annually.

The Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions has estimated up to $11.4 billion a year for could be saved due to decreased drugs costs and reduced administration fees.  “We know there are a lot of studies that show savings.

We need to test those theories,” said British Columbia Health Minister Terry Lake, pointing out the provinces’ pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance has resulted in savings on generic and brand-name drugs.

In all, some $314 million is saved by health-care systems annually thanks to buying in bulk.

Ambrose’s press secretary Michael Bolkenius said the federal minister “has been clear that before spending more money, we must work together on bulk purchasing.”

Still, with as many as one in 10 Canadians being unable to afford to fill their prescriptions, the ministers agree there is some urgency to dealing with the issue.

New Brunswick Health Minister Victor Boudreau said 8.3 per cent of his province’s health budget goes toward drug costs.  “It’s a significant line item in the budget and whatever we can do to try to find . . . better ways to dealing with the situation,” said Boudreau.  “It is a bit of a patchwork right now.”

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