National pharmacare, your potential new reality

The time for a national pharmacare program is now.

There are no ifs or buts about it: in a time where almost one million Canadians will be forced to choose between their heart medication and a roof over their head, the call for a unified drug coverage program becomes more crucial with every passing day. We already have universal healthcare, a system that has generally proved beneficial for Canadian society. So it only makes sense that the next step towards improving the wellbeing of Canadians would be implementing a program that provides affordable and accessible medication.

In an effort to bring affordable drugs to its citizens, the Canadian government has composed a health committee of six members, all with political backgrounds in Canada’s health care system, who are tasked with examining how to unify the drug care programs of each province. The committee will be speaking with the leaders of each province and gaining feedback from their citizens on how the government should go about designing and funding a program that not only works well with Medicare, but also compliments it.  

At the moment, each province has their own system of providing medication to Canadians that involves third parties, private insurances, and business-minded drug companies. A system that not only serves to frustrate with the effort and time needed to actually complete the administrative work, but also drain a considerable chunk of one’s income.

For those covered by union plans or who are financially well-off, the journey to receiving medication is a problem, true, but perhaps not entirely so grim or desperate. But for low-income families, where the difference between $50 and $60 determines whether they can afford dinner on the table, the mixed system quickly proves to be the difference between life and death. In fact, according to Dr. Eric Hoskins, the chair of the advisory council on the implementation of national pharmacare, “Too many Canadians are unable to maintain or achieve a healthy life because they cannot afford needed prescription drugs.”

A national drug care plan would hopefully change that and allow the poorest of Canadians to afford the medication they need. Furthermore, the program would reduce both the government’s public and private costs of supplying medication to Canadians.

Logically, it would seem that the switch to a single-payer, universal model, would be in everyone’s best interests.

But is it really quite so simple? Is Canada truly ready for a nationalized drug plan? Or is the road to more accessible medication destined to be more costly than it’s worth?

One of the main problems that the committee will be hard-pressed to tackle is the cost of switching the entire country to a single-payer system. Current public provincial programs would rise by an estimated 10 billion dollars per year, while private insurance costs would drastically decrease. As such, while there is strong political support for a national pharmacare program, the opposition is heavy from drug companies and private insurance companies.

Additionally, as evident from the current system that British Columbia has, the pharmacare program would not ensure that the best drugs would be affordable or accessible to the public but rather brands that aren’t quite as costly to dispense. This would mean that Canadians would be limited in what drugs they could afford and that they would still be forced to go through private companies in order to receive medication that might be more beneficial to their health.

Another problem is the issue of privacy. While a national pharmacare program would allow doctors and pharmacists a more cohesive system of finding and administering drugs, it would also be easy for any doctor or pharmacist, regardless of whether you are their patient, to access your medication history. This would mean that, should the pharmacare program be based off British Columbia’s current model, a pharmacist from Ontario would be able to access the medication history of a patient currently living in Alberta.

I’ll be frank — I agree with the government. As stated above, Canada does need a nationalized drug plan that is not only affordable but easily accessible for all incomes whether that be in the millions or nothing at all. Medication is not a privilege but a necessity, and a nationalized drug plan would ensure that this necessity is supplied for everyone. However, considering the number of concerns associated with this massive undertaking, I cannot confidently say that the outcome of this project will be truly altruistic in nature. Furthermore, if a national pharmacare program is to happen, the model for it must be better than British Columbia’s program in terms of both privacy and accessibility to drugs beyond simply the cheapest brands to produce.