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NEWS: Health Council head calls for transparency in CETA talks

John Abbott

John Abbott

The Toronto Star’s Linda Diebel reports, “The head of an agency tasked with safeguarding health care has been left in the dark by Ottawa on a multi-billion dollar trade deal that could result in soaring drug prices for consumers. John Abbott, CEO of the Health Council of Canada, has to rely on a leaked draft for information on a pending federal deal with the European Union that researchers estimate could cost Canadians $2.8 billion more annually on prescriptions.”

Abbott heads the Health Council of Canada, which was created as a result of the Canada Health Accord in 2003. The role of the Health Council is to foster accountability, transparency by assessing progress in improving the quality, effectiveness and sustainability of the health care system. It is a not-for-profit organization and is funded by Health Canada.

“In an interview with the Toronto Star, Abbott appealed to Ottawa for transparency in the secret talks because ‘we haven’t been given the full impact of these negotiations.’ He said it would be a shame for governments to have worked so hard in Canada to try to keep drug prices down, only to see them increase because of a trade deal. …Before a deal is struck in the talks, Abbott urged Ottawa to ‘put the deal out for consultation and input so that all sectors of the Canadian public can weigh in on the final agreement.'”

“The Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) includes the demand by European pharmaceutical manufacturers that Canada extend patent protection for up to five years. As a result, cheaper generic drug production would be delayed. The EU also wants procurement at the municipal and provincial levels opened up to European firms, removing favouritism shown to Canadian companies.”

“Ontario potentially would be the hardest-hit province, paying $1.2 billion more annually, according to a study by University of Toronto pharmacy professor Paul Grootendorst and Aiden Hollis, an economist at the University of Calgary. ‘Payers — consumers, businesses, unions and government insurers — would face substantially higher drug costs as exclusivity is extended on top-selling prescription drugs,’ says their report, commissioned by the Canadian Generic Pharmaceutical Association. …Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews said her department is ‘watching very, very closely (and) working to understand the full impact’ of the agreement. In a telephone interview, she said Ontario is represented in the talks by the ministry of economic development and trade and ‘they are keeping our ministry up to date.’ She wouldn’t comment on studies that detail rising drug prices.”

Additionally, the Toronto Star reports today, “Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak is roaring toward a majority win in the Oct. 6 provincial election thanks to a platform that is enticing voters, a new poll suggests. The Forum Research survey found Hudak’s Tories at 41 per cent compared with 26 per cent for Premier Dalton McGuinty’s governing Liberals, 22 per cent for NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, and 8 per cent for Green Leader Mike Schreiner. …Hudak’s support translates into 65 seats for the Conservatives in the 107-seat Legislature to 23 for the Liberals and 19 for the New Democrats.”

Linda Diebel’s article is at http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1014637–studies-warn-drug-prices-will-rise-under-trade-deal.