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Pharmacare advisory council calls for national drug agency

This week the federal Liberals made an announcement based on findings about a plan to create a new national arm’s-length agency to manage prescription medications, including negotiating prices and creating a formulary of approved, covered drugs. This was an interim report from the Liberal government’s advisory council on the implementation of national pharmacare.

Dr. Eric Hoskins, former Ontario health minister and chair of the advisory council, presented the report alongside federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor and Finance Minister Bill Morneau in Toronto earlier this week.

“The interim report findings, he said, are based on “many months” of research and “eye-opening” consultations his seven-member council has held with stakeholders across the country, including patients, employers, organized labour, the insurance sector, pharmacists, governments, Indigenous leaders and academics.

Hoskins explained that the council, which was formed in June 2018 to advise the federal government on how to implement national pharmacare, has also received more than 150 written submissions and 15,000 online questionnaire responses.

Canadians are currently covered by a patchwork of public and private drug plans, but an estimated 20 per cent (as many as 7.5 million people) report they pay out of pocket for their prescriptions.

One thing they’ve learned so far is that too many people are unable to afford their medications, and that the current system is inadequate.

Another concern was the coverage for prescription drugs for rare diseases, which are often extremely costly.

The report also estimated that one million Canadians give up “basic necessities such as food or heat to afford the medication that they so need.”

Pharmacare is a “missing piece” in Canada’s universal health-care system, Petitpas Taylor said, referring to an idea in which “we ask for your health card and not your credit card” when patients buy drugs.

The finance minister said the costs of pharmaceuticals in Canada is “staggering” — pegging the “collective” price paid across the country at $34 billion in 2018.

But after listening to all these findings it was inevitable journalists and Canadians listening would be anxious to know the proposed solution or a roadmap forward, but this interim report did not provide guidance on how the federal government should ensure that all Canadians have access to prescription drug coverage — notably whether it should adopt a universal, single-payer pharmacare plan, or whether it would simply fill the gaps for those who don’t have coverage under other insurance plans.

The council’s final report is expected in June. Perhaps at that point given that political parties will be in campaign mode, the Liberals could announce a plan that would help their electoral fortunes in the federal elections. -CINEWS

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