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Ontario NDP’s policy initiative for Universal PharmaCare applauded by Ontario Health Coalition

Posted: April 28, 2017

By Lynne Brown – April 25, 2017

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath announced Saturday at the NDP’s 2017 Convention that an NDP provincial government would create Ontario’s first universal Pharmacare plan. The convention took place at the Metro Convention Centre in downtown Toronto from April 21st to 23rd.

“You shouldn’t have to empty your wallet to get the medicine you need,” said Horwath. “No family should have to rack up credit card debt to treat an illness. And no one should ever go without the treatment they need because of cost.” Horwath further stated that an NDP government would make a commitment to ensure all Ontarians can afford the medicine they’re prescribed.

One in four Ontarians doesn’t take their medication as prescribed because of cost, and 2.2 million Ontarians have no prescription drug coverage at all. With a growing number of people working non-traditional or unstable jobs, or finding it more difficult to land a job that comes with some benefits, the cost of medications is a growing struggle.

“There are many in Ontario who split their pills in half to make the bottle last longer,” said Horwath. “Or they leave the doctor’s office with a prescription they need, knowing they’ll never fill it because of the price.

“Imagine if everyone could take their medication without the barrier of cost. We can help people live healthier, less stressful lives. We can make their month a little more affordable. And by preventing emergency room trips, we can improve people’s lives, and also relieve the strain on our overcrowded hospitals.”

Horwath, revealed details of the pharmacare plan Monday, April 24th, 2017 at Queen’s Park.

“My plan is affordable, and when we think of the risk to people’s health from skipping their medication – even the risk to their lives – it’s clear that we can’t afford not to implement universal prescription Pharmacare,” said Horwath.

“This plan will mean lower cost, less worry and better health for everyone.”

“Just as public health care, or “medicare”, covers hospitals and doctors, public pharmacare would be a public insurance program covering medicines. It would improve the current patchwork of private insurance plans, the Ontario Drug Benefits program and the Trillium Drug Plan.” said Horwath.

“No one should have to rack up credit card bills to get the medicine they need,” said Horwath. “No one should end up in an already-overcrowded hospital because they couldn’t afford to take the medicine they were prescribed. That’s why I’m committed to creating Ontario’s first universal Pharmacare program.”

When launched, the program will include the most common and essential prescription medicines – such as common medication for high blood pressure, asthma, and diabetes. That list, set by independent experts and based on data, will include about 125 drugs on the program’s launch, and grow over time. Ontario currently has six public drug programs and the NDP’s vision of pharmacare would complement existing coverage. Pharmacare would come with no deductible, but will incorporate a co-pay tied to income, at a maximum of $6.11.

The government would be able to secure “significant” savings when bargaining with drug companies on behalf of 14 million Ontarians, Horwath said.

Private payers such as employers would save between $835 million and $1.9 billion as they would no longer have to cover those 125 medicines, the NDP said.

Horwath was joined by Dr. Steve Morgan, one of Canada’s leading researchers on Pharmacare. “A program of this kind is a practical way of significantly improving access to medicines while dramatically lowering overall drug costs,” said Morgan. “Universal public coverage of essential medicines is a significant and feasible step in the right direction.”

“The very real issue here is patient health and well-being,” said Dr. Steve Morgan, health policy professor at the University of British Columbia’s School of Population and Public Health. “When you face a barrier to filling prescriptions that help maintain good health, you end up with worse health status and you end up in hospital and it makes us all pay in the long run.”

A study published earlier this year (Feb) in The Journals – CMAJ Open and BMJ Open – found that older Canadians unable to afford drug costs tended to have fair or poor health and not have health insurance. The study was based on data from the 2014 international health policy survey conducted by the Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation based in the U.S. that promotes health-care system improvements.

“It’s a serious issue because skipping medication is likely to lead to more serious health problems down the road for the individual, and to higher health costs to the system.” stated Dr. Morgan, the senior study author titled – ‘Cost-related non-adherence to prescribed medicines among older adults: a cross-sectional analysis of a survey in 11 developed countries.’ (http://bmjopen.bmj.com)

Existing programs for seniors’ drugs and high-cost drugs will remain, while the cost of a prescription under Pharmacare will be no more than the copayment through the Ontario Drug Benefit.

The program is expected to help millions save money and have better access to preventative care and treatment. It is estimated that, one in four Ontarians do not take their medication as prescribed because of cost, and 2.2 million Ontarians have no prescription drug coverage at all.

With a growing number of workers in unstable and non-traditional jobs in Ontario, the number of people not covered is expected to grow. The Ontario program would be fully implemented by 2020, the NDP said, but eventually expanded to include more medications, and ideally other provinces would get on board.

“Access to prescription drugs is a central part of maintaining health and fighting disease,” said Dr. Danyaal Raza, a family physician in Toronto and assistant professor at the University of Toronto.

“The health of too many Ontarians has suffered when they’ve been forced to choose between paying for these medications, instead of housing or food. We’re long overdue to change that.”

“When I think of the number of Ontarians who walk out of their doctor’s office knowing that they can’t afford to go to the pharmacy and fill the prescription – I know it’s time to do something about it,” said Horwath.

“We can help people live healthier, less stressful lives. We can make their month a little more affordable. And by preventing emergency room trips, we can also relieve the strain on our overcrowded hospitals. This plan is realistic and affordable – and when I think of the millions of Ontarians who don’t take their medicine because of the cost, I think we can’t afford not to do this.”

The NDP and Pharmacare experts estimate the cost to be under $475 million – less than 0.35 per cent of the province’s total annual budget.

In a media release, Ontario Health Coalition (OHC) stated, ‘The Ontario NDP plan is a welcome first step towards the ultimate goal of a comprehensive national public pharmacare program for all Canadians. The Ontario Health Coalition strongly supports that the ONDP’s plan is universal, meaning that all Ontarians would be covered. The ONDP proposal would cover a list of 125 “essential” medications by 2020.’

The OHC policy vision is one which advocates for a comprehensive program – covering all needed drugs and leaving no one in medical need uncovered.

“Almost 1 in 10 Ontarians do not fill their prescriptions because of cost. Ontarians with cancer, HIV, Crohn’s disease, arthritis and a host of other illnesses face high costs for drugs and inadequate coverage,” noted Natalie Mehra, OHC’s Executive Director. “The NDP’s promotion of a public drug program will help to highlight the hardship and suffering that are a result of the gaps in private and government drug coverage programs today.”

“We hope that the ONDP’s announcement will be a first step in expanding the principles of the Canada Health Act to provide comprehensive public insurance for needed medicines for all Canadians,” she said.

Any pharmacare program must deal with drug pricing and safety. Evidence from the Canadian Institute for Health Information shows that Canadians pay the second highest prices in the world for drugs.

“We look forward to hearing some more details on this proposal,” added Adrienne Silnicki, national coordinator of the Canadian Health Coalition. “Drug safety is a priority issue for us, as are user fees including co-payments and deductibles for patients. We welcome the Ontario NDP’s announcement as a means of furthering the national discussion on a comprehensive public drug program for all.”

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