Universal Drug Plan would save us Billions

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Canada would save billions of dollars if we instituted a national drug plan.

A report was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal making this assertion and it rightly attracted a lot of attention and conversation across the country. This is not a new topic – for years some groups and political parties have advocated for universal drug coverage while others have decried the idea saying it would be prohibitively expensive to administer.

Canadians are proud of our universal health care system in which everyone can visit a doctor or have a hospital stay without personal cost or private insurance. A drug plan is an extension of this idea – where every Canadian would be covered for medically necessary medications regardless of employment insurance or income.

We are currently the only developed country with universal health care that does not have a drug plan like this. Although it sounds like a very expensive prospect, the current research showed a national drug program would likely cost government approximately $1 billion a year but would save the private sector roughly $8.5 billion a year currently spent on prescription drugs often through employee drug plans.

Savings would occur through economies of scale – the government as a large purchaser would save about 10% through generic prices, 10% on brand name prices and another 10% by encouraging more cost effective prescribing.

If Canada managed spending comparable to countries like Switzerland, Italy or Spain and got rates of generic drug use seen in some provincial drug plans, a universal public drug plan would reduce total spending on prescription drugs by $7.3 billion per year.

Currently, one in 10 Canadians find medication cost prohibitive. Many Canadians avoid treatments or skip dosages to have their medicines last longer and save money. Some choose life-saving medicine over food in their budgeting.

Pharmacare does not cover many medications, particularly newer ones that tend to be more expensive. Physicians have to spend valuable time applying for special authority to try to get these medications covered, often unsuccessfully.

This is happening today in our country and is not acceptable. Most Canadians want to live somewhere that affords everyone the basic right to health and dignity.

Not only would we save money directly through prescription drug costs with a universal drug plan, but we would save unnecessary acute health care costs. People would be more likely to take medications as recommended and would likely avoid many hospital stays and emergencies resulting from unmanaged conditions and health complications.

Right now every province manages its own healthcare dollars. For a national drug plan to work, we would need cooperation between provinces and some direction at a federal level. This may sound daunting but I believe it is possible if we balance individual interests with the benefit a plan such as this would give to all Canadians.

Source Paul Latimer “Healing Minds” The Kelowna Capital News April 17, 2015

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