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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth May

Pharmacare really matters, and this is not it

Updated: Apr 2

It's great to know Canada will help those families dealing with the additional costs of managing diabetes, and that the cost burdens of preventative reproductive health care will be reduced, but the lost opportunity of really delivering pharmacare is tragic.


Health Minister Mark Holland, pictured Feb. 29, 2024, holding press conference at the Centretown Community Health Centre in Ottawa to talk about the government’s introduction of the Pharmacare Act. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

Greens have called for pharmacare longer than any other party in this Parliament. Not since the original creation of our universal, single-payer system had a party put pharmacare in its platform until Greens did so. We were convinced by the report Pharmacare 2020. Professor Steven Morgan from University of British Columbia and colleagues from university public policy research centres made the case that pharmacare would save our health-care system billions of dollars annually.


The evidence is clear that the single-fastest rising cost in our health-care system is for prescription drugs. The big winner in the system is Big Pharma. While the pharmaceutical lobby claims it only establishes profit margins to recover its investments in medical research and innovation, the evidence is to the contrary. Most new drugs in the marketplace are the result of minor tweaks on existing products. The excessive and unjustified profits are uncontrolled, and drive up costs for health care.


In 2019 came the report commissioned by the government and led by Dr. Eric Hoskins, a former Ontario health minister and chair of the advisory council. It seemed the momentum was toward Canada finally joining all other countries with a national health-care system, and ensure that necessary prescriptions were covered under our health-care system.

But we have only seen delay after delay. The momentum created by the Hoskins report appeared to have stalled.


Finally, Canadians heard that we would see a pharmacare plan after all, thanks to the supply-and-confidence agreement between the Liberals and the NDP.


After months and months of waiting, the government’s pharmacare plan was finally revealed. But, while welcome, it is not a pharmacare plan. Worse than merely being a small incremental step, as designed, it cannot possibly prove the benefits of a properly constructed plan. It can only disappoint.


It is great to know Canada will help those families dealing with the additional costs of managing diabetes, and it’s great to know the cost burdens of preventative reproductive health care will be reduced, but the lost opportunity of really delivering pharmacare is tragic.


That is because the benefits of universal, single-payer pharmacare are only achieved through the cost savings achieved by the buying power of a single buyer at the federal level. With the ability to negotiate with Big Pharma applying the leverage of a 40-million-customer market, prices would come down for everyone. Additionally, from the Green Party point of view, a single buyer could also operate to a high ethical standard within which drug companies could not curry favour with Health Canada or individual doctors. I am so impressed with the UBC faculty of medicine’s therapeutics initiative, which practises the gold standard of assessing drug registrations. No benefits of any kind come from the industry to benefit the private financial interests of any practitioner or agency. Did you know that for every doctor in Canada, there are three drug salesmen? Getting the pushers out of the health-care system will save lives and money.


So while Greens applaud the new NDP-Liberal deal on diabetes and reproductive health care, pharmacare it is not. We will keep pushing for real pharmacare to deliver real savings for our health-care system.

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