Surrey Board of Trade renews call for a national Pharmacare program

Anita Huberman

THE Surrey Board of Trade is renewing their call to the federal government to implement a universal, public Pharmacare system that improves coverage for all Canadians.

“We have taken this position because our members have expressed serious concerns about high, uncontrolled costs private drug plans. This is a burden on companies that do offer drug coverage to their employees and can be an impediment for some companies to offer any coverage at all,” said Anita Huberman, CEO, Surrey Board of Trade. “When businesses come to us with concerns such as these, we have to respond by investigating and determining a policy direction that would best serve our members, the businesses of Surrey.”

What the Surrey Board of Trade found is that there are inequities in access to care and many gaps in coverage:
* Studies show that 1 in 10 Canadians do not take their medications as prescribed because of cost;
* Studies also show that access to medicines is particularly poor in British Columbia. This is because the deductibles under British Columbia’s “catastrophic” public drug plan have been shown to reduce the use of preventative treatments that patients do not necessarily prioritize in ways that the health care system would want them to;
* In the end, we all pay more when patients don’t get the medications they need —because they end up in hospital, which can cost taxpayers a lot more than appropriate prescription drugs would cost in the first instance; and,
* We also pay more when we fragment our purchasing power on the world market for pharmaceuticals. Earlier this year, the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimated that a universal public pharmacare program would save Canadian over $4 billion per year, owing to the superior purchasing power of a single-payer system for pharmaceutical coverage.
“Businesses know better than anyone else how important it is to focus on core competency and to maximize the efficiencies of those processes,” noted Huberman. “There is no doubt that fragmentation of drug price negotiating power in Canada means higher drug costs. What’s very concerning to us is that in our research, we found a report by Express Scripts Canada that says $5 billion is paid out every year by employers and unions in order to cover poor drug choices and unnecessarily expensive pharmacy services. But individual businesses and employee groups are not in the best position to reign in those costs.”

One of the problems with the current system is that private insurance for drugs and public insurance for medical care creates a “silo” between the management of those critical parts of Canada’s health care system. From a business perspective, it would be more efficient for the costs of medically necessary prescription drugs to be managed alongside the budgets for other forms of care. In the Canadian context, that means it makes most sense for those costs to be managed by provincial governments in cooperation with each other and with the federal government.

In response to queries regarding the impact on insurance and pharmaceutical providers, Huberman said that reassigning responsibility for provision of pharmaceutical coverage to health care managers provides opportunities for insurance coverage to enhance workplace benefits.

“Importantly, I believe that the private sector in Canada can use the funding freed up by a more efficient pharmacare system to make other, important investments in the health of our employees and their families such as Vision care, Dental care, Hearing care, Physiotherapy, Mental health. These are all areas where employers and unions could make new investments with savings stemming from the savings created through a universal, public pharmacare program,” said Huberman.

She added: “Government should let businesses focus on running businesses and have health care managers manage the pharmaceutical needs of patients. Businesses would support a program that did this fairly and efficiently.”

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