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Duffy and Wallin can keep their benefits but what about everyone else?

Senator Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin made headlines these past two weeks asking the Prime Minister to keep them on the Senate so they could afford their prescription drugs.

It’s not often that we hear of people unable to leave a job in Canada because of health benefits- but it’s a tale as old as time in the United States. The term “job-lock” is used in the US to describe the situation of people unable leave their current workplace for fear of losing their health insurance and benefits.

Estimates on how many Americans are job-locked ranges from 20-40 per cent.[1]

Duffy and Wallin are showing how Canadians are also job-locked. Despite getting a Senator’s income and having years of well paying jobs, both Duffy and Wallin claim that the price of their prescription drugs is unaffordable and without their benefits, they wouldn’t be able to pay for their medicine.

This should raise concerns for all Canadians. If Duffy and Wallin can’t afford their medicine, what are average Canadians doing?

According to Law et al., one in ten Canadians are not filling their drug prescriptions due to cost.[2]  This means people are getting sicker, being forced to use the hospital and emergency room more often, and suffering the consequences from non-adherence to their prescription medication.

While Duffy and Wallin were pleading their case for extended benefits so they could continue to adhere to their prescriptions, Harper was signing a new trade deal with the European Union that will raise the cost of drugs for Canadians by up to $1.65 billion a year.[3]

But you shouldn’t worry about the rising costs of drugs. Stephen Harper has promised that he may consider compensating the provinces, but not you.[4] They haven’t offered any compensation to individual prescription medication buyers. And of course, if the Federal Conservatives do compensate the provinces, it will be done with your tax dollars.

The federal government is not without options. They could say no to the EU’s request to extend pharmaceutical patents- we already have long drug patents compared to other countries. Or, they could introduce a national pharmacare plan- given that Canada is the only country with universal public health care that doesn’t cover pharmaceuticals. A national pharmacare program would actually save us (the federal government, provincial governments, and out-of-pocket prescription buyers) $11 billion a year.[5]  Of course, they could also do both of those things and save Canadians nearly $13 billion a year.

But most likely, the Federal Conservatives will continue on an ideological path that will lead to higher drug costs for Canadians and restricted labour market mobility due to our new culture of “job-locking”.  Settle into that workspace folks, we’re in for a long ride!  



[1] Dube does a good job of summarising the literature available on job-lock. See: Arindrajit Dube. Productivity Impact of Health Care Reform in California. Institute for Labor and Employment. University of California, Berkeley. August, 2003.

[2] Michael R. Law PhD, Lucy Cheng MSc, Irfan A. Dhalla MD MSc, Deborah Heard BASc, Steven G. Morgan PhD. The effect of cost on the adherence to prescription medication in Canada.

[3] Gagnon and Lexchin. CETA will result in high drug costs for Canadians. October 31st, 2013.

[4]CBC. Ottawa urged to release papers on drug costs after CETA. November 7th, 2013.

[5] Marc- André Gagnon and Guillaume Hébert. The Economic Case for Universal Pharmacare. September 13th, 2010.