Transparency and equality were the key recommendations made on a national drug plan proposal at a meeting on Parliament Hill today.
Medical experts and advocates testified to the Standing Committee on Health on the development of a Canadian Pharmacare program. The committee, which has not met since September, has been tasked with determining if and how Canada should implement a pharmacare program to supplement medicare. This would cover medically necessary prescriptions and reduce the amount that Canadians rely on private insurance.
“Every shift, every day, we see the impacts of patients not taking their medications,” said Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions.
Silas said the federation “strongly supports” a pharmacare program to help Canadians afford their medications. Other advocates for a national drug plan include numerous health and science experts from across the country, including the Canadian Medical Association, the Cancer Advocacy Coalition, and the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions. They said that Canada is the only developed country in the world with a universal health care system that does not have a national drug plan.
“We need to muster the political will to action,” she testified, after the committee acknowledged her steadfast support of the program.
Janet Yale of the Canadian Arthritis Society agreed, testifying that many chronic illnesses such as arthritis require at-home treatments that are not covered by provincial health plans, putting a stain on those without private health insurance.
“Access to health care is a right,” said Doug Coyle of the Public Health and Preventative Medicine Department at the University of Ottawa. “Fairness should be at the heart of all decisions made about healthcare.”
Coyle also testified that any pharmacare program would have to be transparent and independent in order to ensure that there were no conflicts of interest impeding maximum benefits for all Canadians.
“We’re prescribing too many drugs that are too expensive,” said Coyle, who said that any national drug plan should have independent oversight to run cost-benefit analyses on any purchases of drugs.
Tom Perry from the University of British Columbia’s Therapeutics Initiative said that pharmacare as it was implemented provincially in B.C. prevented the government from providing coverage for potentially dangerous new drugs, including donepezil (Aricept), a controversial drug treatment for Alzheimer’s. The province’s pharmacare provided coverage for a few effective but inexpensive medications, instead of more experimental and costly options.
But Yale said that, especially with arthritis patients, Pharmacare must provide a wide variety of drug options for patients.
“It must provide choice,” said Yale, explaining that one drug may work better for one arthritis patient than it would for another.
Critics of a national drug plan argue that high drug costs are an incentive for pharmaceutical companies to continue innovating. One study out of the University of Connecticut suggests that if the United States had implemented a similar drug plan, drug companies would have likely produced 330 to 365 fewer drugs over a 21-year period.