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View Lenore Zann Profile
Lib. (NS)
View Lenore Zann Profile
2020-03-12 16:03 [p.2032]
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time today with the member for Argenteuil—La Petite-Nation.
I would first like to acknowledge that we are on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin people.
I am pleased to rise to participate in this important discussion on implementing a national pharmacare program in Canada.
Our government is committed to strengthening health care systems across this country and supporting the health of all Canadians. We know that Canadians are proud of our publicly funded health care system, which is based on need and not the ability to pay, yet we know that at least one in 10 Canadians cannot afford the prescription drugs they need. At a time when we are facing the crisis of a coronavirus pandemic, one only has to look at what is happening south of the border to see what happens in a country that does not have a public health care system. I am so glad I live in Canada where we are looked after by our government, and I think it is very important to carry this on into pharmacare as well.
When medicare was first introduced, Tommy Douglas, the father of medicare, said at the time that he did not introduce it in Saskatchewan for 18 years because he wanted to make sure that his province could actually afford it. When he did introduce it, a lot of the push-back came from doctors, who felt they would not be making as much money. I am very pleased that when he was part of the Government of Canada after that, he talked with his colleagues opposite and together they passed medicare in Canada.
When medicare was first introduced, prescription drugs played a much more limited role in health care. Drugs used outside of the hospital were primarily inexpensive medicines used to treat common conditions such as high blood pressure. Now, with pharmaceutical advances, drugs play a vital role in health care and are helping to cure or manage previously debilitating or fatal diseases such as cancer, although we know that many of these drugs are still extremely expensive and unaffordable for some people.
With the rising rates of chronic disease and the growing number of conditions that can be treated by medications, Canadians are taking more prescription drugs each year. Globally, the drug landscape is also evolving rapidly. Specialty drugs to treat complex, serious conditions such as rare diseases are being developed at accelerated rates. These drugs are offering hope and improved health to many Canadians. However, many of these drugs are still not affordable, and Canada continues to rely on an incomplete patchwork of public and private drug plans offered by various provinces to provide this core part of health care, which, as I mentioned, is leaving a growing number of Canadians behind. That is why our government and I feel that the time for pharmacare has come.
Today, more than seven million Canadians lack adequate drug coverage, and many are unable to take their medications due to the cost. Every year, almost one million Canadians give up food and heat to afford medicines, and they often tend to be lower-income, working-age Canadians. Even individuals who have prescription drug coverage can face significant and prohibitive out-of-pocket expenses, often in the thousands of dollars, in the form of deductibles, copayments and costs that exceed their annual or lifetime coverage limits.
When Canadians cannot afford their drugs, their health often worsens, putting an even greater strain on our health care system. Roughly 25% of Canadians who report being unable to take their medications due to cost also report using a health service they otherwise would not have needed. This includes visits to doctors and emergency rooms, which place a huge strain on the system.
No Canadian should have to choose between paying for prescription drug and putting food on the table. However, we know that many are still forced to make this impossible decision.
In addition, Canadians face some of the highest prescription drug prices in the world. The average annual cost of the top-10 selling patented drugs in Canada grew from $2,200 in 2006 to more than $18,000 in 2017. Prices for drugs to treat rare diseases can start at $100,000 and go upwards of $2 million per patient per year, often over a lifetime. The result is that both the public and private drug plans that many Canadians rely on are feeling the strain.
Drug spending in Canada is high, reaching more than an estimated $40 billion in 2019. Drugs are now the second-largest category of spending in health care. This is unsustainable, and it is hurting Canadians every single day. The unaffordability of many medications leads to Canadians being less healthy and creates higher health care costs for us all.
That is why the Government of Canada is committed to implementing a national universal pharmacare system. This program would save Canadians $13 billion in drug prices over the next 10 years. However, it will not be easy. We need to work closely with provinces, territories and stakeholders to improve drug coverage so Canadians, including those suffering from rare diseases, can have access to the drugs they need.
I was pleased to be part of a government in Nova Scotia that went toe to toe with the pharmaceutical companies. We lowered our drug prices from 85% down to 35%, which was a huge help for Nova Scotia. This is the sort of thing we need to do across the country, even though we know there will be a big push-back from the pharmaceutical companies. We are already feeling it now. Certain companies are already trying to get the government to back down on pharmacare. Companies are getting the families of certain people with rare diseases to try to convince the government to back off, and this is not okay. Unfortunately, pharmaceutical companies are using a very bad situation, with desperate and vulnerable people, to try to lobby government on their behalf so that they will have more money in their pockets.
To help us chart our course forward, in 2018 the government created the advisory council on the implementation of national pharmacare. Chaired by Dr. Eric Hoskins, the council's mandate was to provide independent advice on how best to implement national pharmacare so it would be affordable for Canadians and their families, employers and governments.
After leading an extensive national dialogue, in its June 2019 report the council recommended that the federal government work with provincial and territorial governments to establish a universal single-payer public system of prescription drug coverage in Canada. Given the scope of the transformation required to achieve this, the council suggested that it would be practical to adopt a phased approach to implementation.
Guided by the council's recommendations, budget 2019 outlined three foundational elements to help Canada move forward on implementing national pharmacare: one, establishing a Canadian drug agency; two, developing a strategy for high-cost drugs for rare diseases; and three, working toward a national formulary.
A Canadian drug agency would talk a coordinated approach to assessing effectiveness and negotiating prescription drug prices on behalf of all Canadians. The development of a national formulary, a comprehensive evidence-based list of prescribed drugs, would promote more consistent coverage and patient access across the country. Both of these initiatives must be done in close collaboration with provinces and territories. To make pharmacare sustainable, we also need to continue to look for opportunities to improve pharmaceutical management in partnership with our provinces and territories.
I would like to thank the hon. member for Vancouver Kingsway for his motion on national universal pharmacare. I think we can all agree that it is critical for the government to work closely with provinces, territories and our political colleagues to determine how best to move forward on this important issue. The government looks forward to productive discussions this spring, and together we will continue to make the affordability and accessibility of prescription drugs a shared priority.
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