Corporate opposition to pharmacare has a new ally - Doug Ford

While there is reason to be hopeful we can win a universal single-payer public prescription drug plan in the near future, we need to be prepared to fight industry and right-wing political opposition to it.

CBC reports, "A report requested by the House of Commons standing committee on health found a national pharmacare program would save Canadians $4.2 billion a year by giving Canada bulk buying power for medications and reduce administrative and other costs related to the dozens of provincial health-care plans. That report is now in the hands of the federal government, but Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor was noncommittal when Go Public asked if the government plans to implement the program. 'Well, the first step forward right now is we're going to be putting in place the advisory council because we want them to look at all options that are available', she said."

That committee - chaired by former Ontario Liberal cabinet minister Eric Hoskins - isn't expected to report until late 2019, just before the next federal election.

The CBC Go Public report adds, "One of the problems [in moving forward with pharmacare according to health economist Steve Morgan] is convincing pharmaceutical companies that stand to lose billions that a national system is the way to go."

Former Canadian Labour Congress chief economist Andrew Jackson has also cautioned, "We can expect the large drug companies and the private-insurance industry to oppose major reforms." And Healthy Debate has noted, "Private insurance companies would almost certainly lose, since a lucrative portion of their business would shrivel up if national pharmacare were to be introduced."

Given corporations aren't likely to publicly argue against pharmacare on the basis of their drive for profit, what arguments might they spin instead?

The Financial Post has reported, "Any move to change how the country regulates drug pricing has been greeted with .. warnings from the drug manufacturing industry that cutting costs too deeply could impact research and development, and future access."

A senior associate with Global Public Affairs (a privately-held Canadian government relations firm), says, "I’m not sure there is any consensus on an ideal model for pharmacare. But I’m concerned about a single-payer universal system because it limits options. If the government is running the program and we run into a recession, what’s going to happen to the program? ...I really see the benefit of employer-sponsored plans where you can determine what is the right package of benefits to offer employees in your company."

There will be more voices on Parliament Hill on this issue.

iPolitics now reports Huntington Ventures Ltd. (a venture capital fund), the Conference for Advanced Life and Underwriting (which represents more than 11,000 insurance and financial advisors), and Servier Inc. Canada (owned by the French pharmaceutical manufacturer Biofarma S.A.) have all just signed firms to lobby the federal government on pharmacare.

This corporate lobby also now has a new powerful spokesperson at the provincial level. On the night of the recent provincial election in Ontario, The Globe and Mail reported, "[Ontario premier-designate Doug Ford has] resisted the federal push to consider a national pharmacare program."

Given the federal government is responsible for drug patents, the initial approval of prescription drugs, and its buying power is critical for pharmacare, the provincial government has responsibility and jurisdiction over the funding of all health care services, including pharmaceuticals. As such, federal-provincial cooperation would appear to be essential in moving forward on pharmacare.

The Council of Canadians is committed to winning pharmacare for the public good.