Canadian Institute for Health Information report strengthens the argument for pharmacare


The Council of Canadians Kitchener-Waterloo chapter promoting pharmacare at an information table at a local farmers' market.

A new report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) strengthens the argument that the Trudeau government should immediately implement the universal drug program known as pharmacare.

The CIHI report finds that governments, private insurance companies and individuals are projected to spend $242 billion on health care in 2017 - a nearly 4-per-cent increase over 2016 spending levels.

The Globe and Mail highlights, "The report found that among the three largest spending categories - hospitals, drugs and physicians, which together account for more than 60 per cent of the overall expenditure - pharmaceutical costs continue to increase at the fastest pace. This has been true since 2015, due partly to the increased use of high-cost patented drugs."

The article adds, "Over all, the jurisdictions that shared their data with CIHI spent almost $9.2-billion on prescription drugs in 2016, a 4.5-per-cent increase over the year before. ...Drug costs, of which nearly two-thirds are paid out-of-pocket or covered by private insurance plans, are expected to rise by 5.2 per cent in 2017."

But there is hope.

On September 28, the Canadian Press reported, "A national, universal pharmacare program that all but eliminates all out-of-pocket expenses for Canadians who need to fill their prescriptions could slash the overall price tag for drugs in this country by more than $4 billion a year. ...The savings would come largely from the impact of bulk purchases of drugs, allowing Health Canada to negotiate better prices for most pharmaceuticals, as well as an increase in the use of generic drugs."

The Toronto Star editorial board says the savings could be even higher than that - "Various studies have pegged Canada-wide savings from national pharmacare at between $4 billion and $11 billion per year, depending on how the program is structured."

Apart from the cost-savings that would be found on drug prices, billions more could be saved in hospital costs.

In June 2015, the National Post reported, "One in 10 Canadians don’t fill prescriptions written by their doctors, a phenomenon that costs the health care system between $7-and $9-billion annually, a new report [by the Mowat Centre think tank] states. Many don’t fill prescriptions because they can’t afford to, a phenomena exacerbated by the patchwork of coverage in different provinces. Those who can’t or won’t fill their prescriptions end up back in hospital and the phenomena leads to 'higher mortality'."

But instead of implementing pharmacare - and thereby saving lives and billions of dollars in expenditures - the Trudeau government is adding to the bill by pursuing so-called 'free trade' agreements.

For example, a study by Joel Lexchin (York University) and Marc-André Gagnon (Carleton University) found that the extended patent provisions for pharmaceutical drugs under that the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) could add between $850 million to $1.65 billion in drug costs annually.

The Council of Canadians calls on the Trudeau government to implement universal pharmacare and save billions of dollars a year (money that could be invested in public health care, prevention, and wellness programs to save lives).

To add your voice to that demand, please click on our action alert here.