Greens aim for affordable prescriptions with national pharmacare

Elizabeth May served notice in Victoria Tuesday that the Green Party plans to push for a national pharmacare program as the country prepares to go to the polls Oct. 19.

During a news conference, the Green Party leader rolled out some details of a plan that she claims will reduce the cost of pharmaceutical drugs while saving the Canadian health-care system more than $10 billion a year.

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“I hope to make health care an issue in this federal election campaign,” May said, noting she intends to table the idea of a national pharmacare program during the one leader’s debate she will be included in along with Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Aug. 6.

“Canada simply cannot afford to ignore this crisis in prescription drugs. We need a pharmacare plan and national pharmacare program and we need it by 2020,” she said.

The Green Party plan has not yet been fully fleshed out. May admits it will require all parties working together with the various stakeholders to get it off the ground.

However, she said they have a vision for it that includes the establishment of a federal Crown corporation that would take on the task of bulk-buying prescription drugs to drive down the price.

The party also vows it would apply greater rigour to drug registration by applying the approach of the independent drug-safety watchdog Therapeutics Initiative, based at the University of B.C.

“We will not register drugs that hurt more people than they help,” May said. “Not only will it improve the health of Canadians, it will save up to $11 billion annually. It just makes sense to do this and do it now.”

May estimates the cost of establishing a national agency at $300 million a year, though she said when drugs are then sold to the provinces, the agency would recoup some of that money.

The Greens’ plan would also take on the pharmaceutical industry. May would like to see more transparency in the relationship between the corporations and those who prescribe medications.

“For the pharmaceutical industry, it is entirely appropriate they reap the benefits of intellectual property development and receive decent levels of profit. I’m just against indecent levels of profit,” she said.

May, relying heavily on findings in a recently released report from the Pharmaceutical Policy Research Collaboration at UBC — Pharmacare 2020: The Future of Drug Coverage in Canada — noted Canadians spend $30 billion annually on prescription drugs, $6 billion of which is not covered by private health-care programs.

That report noted “every developed country with a universal health-care system provides universal coverage of prescription drugs — except Canada” and that pharmacare “is a natural, long-planned component of Canadian Medicare.”

Citing the report, May noted the high cost of prescription drugs can lead Canadians to skip medication and cut down on their required dosages.

“And the result is it costs our health-care system … when Canadians feel they can’t afford their own prescriptions, they skip taking the drugs their doctors have recommended and the disease that was treatable becomes catastrophic, they are hospitalized and that costs the system billions,” she said.

The Green Party’s plan adopts four of Pharmacare 2020’s recommendations: universal access to necessary medicines, fair distribution of prescription drug costs, safe and appropriate prescribing and maximum health benefits per dollar spent.

“The report provides solid chapter-and-verse proof that it will save Canadians money,” May said. “This has win-win-win written all over it.”

Victoria Green Party candidate Jo-Ann Roberts noted “a national pharmacare program is the missing piece from one of our greatest achievements as a country — universal health care. We need a national pharmacare program that provides fair and equitable access to medicine for all Canadians.”

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