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Butler says CETA would undermine pharmacare

The Globe and Mail editorial board commented earlier this week on two reports about provincial drug plans for seniors.

According to the newspaper, the corporate-friendly C.D. Howe Institute report argued “to base coverage on income, so those with the least resources – whatever their age – will get their drugs paid for”, while the more progressive Institute for Research on Public Policy “favours full and universal coverage of drug costs [and] a central agency to buy drugs, thus generating huge discounts from bulk purchases.”

While not endorsing either report, the editorial board says, “It makes no sense to divorce pharmaceutical treatment from the principle of universality. More and more health care is pharmaceutical care, and Canada is the only developed country with universal health insurance that doesn’t provide full coverage for medications.”

Council of Canadians health care campaigner Michael Butler says, “Unfortunately, the Harper government is working against our best interests given its Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with the European Union would put a stop to the possibility of pharmacare. That’s because CETA would significantly delay cheaper generic medicines from entering our market. It is estimated that changes to patent protection for pharmaceutical drugs could cost our public health care system $850 million to $1.65 billion annually.”

He argues, “If CETA is ratified the likelihood of a national pharmacare plan becomes substantially more difficult (if possible at all) as we would also face billions of dollars in lawsuits under the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism. Pharmaceutical corporations that see pharmacare as an infringement on their right to profit from life-saving medications would be well positioned with this provision to stop such an initiative. The recent $500 million ISDS lawsuit under NAFTA against Canada by US pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly highlights the difficulty of making cheaper generic drugs available to Canadians.”

Butler concludes, “If we want to implement universal pharmacare, then we must say no to ‘free trade’ deals like CETA.”

Further reading
In the name of ‘free trade’ our public health care system is forced to swallow another poison pill (September 2014 blog by Michael Butler)
Eli Lilly’s investor-state challenge against Canada (November 2013 blog)
Eli Lilly lawsuit should prompt review of Canada’s investment treaty obligations (September 2013 media release)