Universal drug plan would save billions

Universal drug plan would save billions

By Dr. Paul Latimer

You may have seen and heard some coverage in the last week about the claim by UBC researchers that Canada would save billions of dollars if we instituted a national drug plan.

A report was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal making this assertion and it rightly attracted a lot of attention and conversation across the country.

This is not a new topic – for years some groups and political parties have advocated for universal drug coverage while others have decried the idea saying it would be prohibitively expensive to administer.

Canadians are proud of our universal health care system in which everyone can visit a doctor or have a hospital stay without personal cost or private insurance. A drug plan is an extension of this idea – where every Canadian would be covered for medically necessary medications regardless of employment insurance or income.

We are currently the only developed country with universal health care that does not have a drug plan like this.

Although it sounds like a very expensive prospect, the current research showed a national drug program would likely cost government approximately $1 billion a year but would save the private sector roughly $8.5 billion a year currently spent on prescription drugs often through employee drug plans.

Savings would occur through economies of scale – the government as a large purchaser would save about 10% through better generic prices, 10% on brand name prices and another 10% by encouraging more cost-effective prescribing.

If Canada managed spending comparable to countries like Switzerland, Italy or Spain and got rates of generic drug use seen in some provincial drug plans, a universal public drug plan would reduce total spending on prescription drugs by $7.3 billion per year.

Currently, one in 10 Canadians find medication costs prohibitive. Many Canadians avoid treatments or skip dosages to have their medicine last longer and save money. Some choose life-saving medicine over food in their budgeting. This is happening today in our country and is not acceptable. I think most Canadians want to live somewhere that affords everyone the basic right to health and dignity.

Not only would we save money directly through prescription drug costs with a universal drug plan, but we would also save unnecessary acute health care costs. People would be more likely to take medications as recommended and would likely avoid many hospital stays and emergencies resulting from unmanaged conditions and health complications.

Right now every province manages its own healthcare dollars. For a national drug plan to work, we would need cooperation between provinces and some direction at a federal level. This may sound daunting but I believe it is possible if we balance individual interests with the benefit a plan such as this would give to all Canadians.

I encourage everyone to become an advocate. Change doesn’t happen unless we make it happen. Contact your provincial and federal representatives today. We can have a country with healthcare that is truly accessible for all.

 

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