The idea of national drug coverage, or pharmacare, has been getting a lot of attention across Canada lately. More and more people are calling for a national pharmacare strategy, including doctors, nurses, economists, as well as people in contract and service jobs who don’t have drug coverage.
These calls reflect a growing problem that affects everyone in Canada: we are paying too much for prescription drugs.
In fact, our current patchwork system of private and public drug plans means that we are paying some of the highest drug prices in the world. Prescription medications cost on average 30% more in Canada than in other industrialized countries.
Drug costs are now the second biggest expense for the Canadian health care system, meaning that we spend more on drugs than we do on physician salaries. How did drug costs get so high? Canada has no coordinated bulk buying program for medications. Bulk buying is key to controlling drug costs for other countries. Without National Drug Coverage, we have no coordinated way to control drug costs.
The Cost of High Drug Prices
Runaway drug costs have serious impacts for our health and our health care system. Every year, at least 3 million Canadians are unable to fill their prescriptions due to cost. In addition to not filling prescriptions, many Canadians split or skip doses to try to make medications last longer. Not being able to take medications the way that they are prescribed leads to increased health complications which can result in hospitalizations.
National drug coverage would stop drug companies from overcharging Canadians for prescription medications. It would save us all money, improve health outcomes, and reduce strain on our emergency departments and hospital services.
A national drug coverage plan — other wise known as universal pharmacare — that is public, affordable and safe, would mean that everyone in Canada would have access to the prescription medicines we need. And when everyone has equitable access to the medicines they need to be healthy we’re all better off.