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Trade deals a poison pill for Canadian national pharmacare

Health care rally

OTTAWA – If there was ever a living, breathing argument for keeping the profit motive out of health care, Martin Shkreli is it. The CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals has been internationally condemned for hiking the price of an AIDS drug by more than 5000%. He had also previously raised the price of a childcare medication for kidney disease by almost 2000%. Why did he do it? Because he could.

Granted, Canadian healthcare is protected from the frontier mentality of our neighbours to the south. But is it?

Canada has one of the fastest rising drug costs per capita among OECD countries, and is the only country in the world with a public medicare system that does not have a pharmacare program. It is estimated that changes to patent protection for pharmaceutical drugs as a result of trade agreements could cost our public health care system anywhere between $850 million to $1.65 billion every year.  At approximately $900 per person, Canadian drug costs are already the 2nd highest in the OECD – second only to the United States.

“Canada’s policies on pharmaceuticals needs work, but these trade deals are a step in the wrong direction,” says Michael Butler, Health Care campaigner for the Council of Canadians. “Under the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), for example, brand name pharmaceutical companies will make hundreds of millions of dollars extra while piling on additional costs for Canadians who need these drugs.”

CETA and TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) are part of an aggressive wave of trade deals that lay waste to the right of Canadian governments to legislate public health policy if it threatens investor profit. Under these conditions, the likelihood of a national pharmacare plan becomes substantially more difficult. It would be viewed as a direct infringement of corporate “rights,”  the inverse of current national health policies that put patients first.

“CETA is a poison pill that could derail national pharmacare, reduce access to medications, and block needed improvements to pharmaceutical policies,” says Butler. “It’s time we look beyond so called economic arguments in order to justify government policy. Canadians wants affordable healthcare, not monolithic corporate care.”

Prescription drug coverage was recommended as a next step by the 1964 Royal Commission on Health Services. To this day, evidence-based studies continue to support the call for pharmacare.


IMAGE: Nova Scotia, Council of Canadians