BY MARY BOYD
In the Guardian’s guest opinion, March 15, a Fraser Institute representative criticized a proposal for a universal drug plan for all Canadians as wasteful and wrong-headed. The author stated that a universal medical drug plan (pharmacare), is not the way to go, and suggested that the authors of a recent study somewhat bizarrely recommended such a plan.
Apparently, this author isn’t aware that Canada has a number of very highly-qualified experts in the field who have published many papers on a universal plan. They find it to be the most efficient way to provide quality and effective medicines. They show that a universal plan would save at least $11 billion per year of the approximately $29 billion we spend yearly for medical drugs. They remind us that Canada is the only country with a universal health care system that doesn`t have a universal medical drug program.
The Fraser Institute author claims that “such a program would use scarce health care dollars to subsidize everyone…” and then claims that a universal pharmacare plan is potentially inefficient (and expensive), suggesting that government may not the be best suited to do the job. The author claims that recommending a federally-run universal public plan is misguided fantasy and that advocating for it is a knee-jerk reaction.
Are health dollars scarce? Prime Minister Harper cut taxes and reduced revenue by $41.5 billion per year, a sum close to the entire $44.7 billion annual health and social transfers to the provinces. Dr. Robert McMurtry said that if Canada adopted a best practices method used in other OECD countries, we would save another $42 billion. And what about the $100 billion that Canadians hide in tax shelters?
In what appears to be a veiled attempt to protect private insurance companies, the author claims that European countries such as Switzerland and the Netherlands, and all European countries, allow the private sector to play a significant role as partner or alternative for the insurance and delivery of medical goods and services. This statement neglects to mention that the private delivery of pharmaceuticals in European countries is through non-profit companies. A universal medical plan would eliminate private insurance for the sake of efficiency. These companies make a lot of money by charging administration fees that keep increasing medical drug costs.
The author includes the United Kingdom in making a case for private plans, although the research gives a different story. The United Kingdom introduced a universal drug plan in the 1940s that provides necessary medication to the whole population. Children, students, people over 60, those on low incomes, everybody in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland pay nothing for their medical drugs. All the others pay a maximum of $188 dollars per year. That’s what a universal pharmacare plan can deliver.
What is more efficient than going to your doctor, getting a written prescription, taking it to the pharmacy and having the government pay under a single payer system such as we have with medicare? Furthermore, the medicines you receive would be evidence-based to guarantee the safest and most effective quality treatment.
Today, one in 10 Canadians can’t afford their medicine. One in 4 can’t afford to take their medicine the way the doctor prescribes it. Many workers and their families can’t afford a plan and many workers are just a pink slip away from having no drug coverage. Advocates such as the Canadian Health Coalition, the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (CFNU), Doctors for Medicare, the Canadian Labour Congress, and the Canadian Association of Community Health Centres join the many experts in asking for a national universal medical drug plan.
The CFNU conducted a study a couple of years ago which found that Canada wasted $62 billion between 2006 and 2016 by not having a national, public, drug plan. P.E.I.’s share of that loss was $276 million. This is hardly wasteful and wrong-headed.
- Mary Boyd, Chair, P.E.I. Health Coalition