Editorial: Liberals on pharmacare is bait and switch

With a national plan, we are a much bigger entity, and as such, we can negotiate better drug prices.

Editorial: Liberals on pharmacare is bait and switch

What’s to study? A national pharmacare plan is a no-brainer.

While it initially seemed like good news that the federal government is going to at least explore options for a national plan to pay for prescription drugs, the fact that nothing is going to come of it until at least 2019 was already disappointing, and we feared there was a lack of commitment. Nevertheless, we hoped this wouldn’t turn out to be another promise to explore electoral reform.

But already by mid-week federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau was saying it won’t actually be a comprehensive national plan, it will be stop-gap measures to cover people who don’t already have drug coverage. What a hoax to call it a national pharmacare plan — what the Liberals are contemplating is not at all what people think when they hear that term.

So what gives? With the mandate Morneau has revealed, this whole process is nothing but window dressing to get a few headlines to make the government popular. In the end it will yield nothing at all resembling what people want and expect.

Just last year the parliamentary budget officer estimated a national pharmacare plan would cost about $20.4 billion.

That’s a heck of a lot of money, but consider that it’s also estimated that would provide a savings of about $4.2 billion on what we pay now.

The savings come simply through having a national plan. Right now, drug coverage differs from province to province. This has led to some highly inequitable situations where life and death, or at least quality of life and death, are being decided on simple geography. You can get one drug in Ontario, but not in Saskatchewan. You can get this one in B.C., but you’re out of luck if you’re moving to Nova Scotia.

Any national plan should meet the gold standard of each province – meaning it would cover everything covered by even one province in Canada. This would lead not only to equality of coverage, but also to improvements in coverage for virtually everyone.

With a national plan, we are a much bigger entity, and as such, we can negotiate better drug prices.

Currently, Canada is the only country to have universal medical care, but not universal prescription drug coverage. It’s a disconnect. Medicines are a huge part of the medical system.

It’s far too common to hear about seniors in our communities who are having to choose between filling their prescriptions and buying food.

Sooner is better for national pharmacare.