Pharmacare in Reverse

This article will be the first in what I hope will be a series of articles ranging on topics as diverse as pharmacare and other health care issues, business and economic policy, the environment, and anything else that comes to mind.  To start, I hope to share with you in the first few articles the challenges and opportunities that exist for those of us who work towards the goal of a national pharmacare program for all Canadians.  As with any subject focused on a specific area, there is vocabulary particular to the professions involved or topics being discussed.  I will try to demystify the words being used to the best of my ability.  In those cases where you have questions, seek clarity, or want to share possible corrections about what I have written, please feel free to share your thoughts with me.

The goals of any national pharmacare program should be to increase the number of people covered until every Canadian has at least some drug coverage and to reduce the cost of medication to both government and individual Canadians.  In order to accomplish these goals, it goes without saying that it is necessary to reduce drug costs significantly.  When I say we, in Canada, are effectively implementing pharmacare in reverse, it is to say that the action the Conservative government in Ottawa is currently contemplating will reduce the number of people with drug coverage and for those Canadians who will continue to have coverage, their individual out-of-pocket costs will be higher and the cost to government will be higher as well.

The action that is currently being considered by the Conservative government is to extend the patent protection on brand name drugs.  The impetus for this increase in patent protection on brand name drugs is coming from the Conservative government’s negotiations with the European Union to form a free trade deal.

Part of the argument used by the brand name pharmaceutical companies to try and convince government of the need for increased drug patent protection and therefore significantly increased costs is that the brand name pharmaceutical companies would then invest more in research and development in Canada.

Unfortunately, the statistics show that very little pharmaceutical research and development or any other side benefit is afforded to Canadians for the disproportionately high cost that we pay for brand name medications.  The fact that we, as a country, would be considering any action that would arbitrarily and significantly increase the costs of brand name drugs for no direct benefit to the health care or the pocket books of Canadians would be cruel enough all by itself.

The fact that we are effectively allowing ourselves to have this ruse foisted upon ourselves for the second time is tragic.  For those who are unfamiliar, this increase in brand name drug patent length with the promise of increased research and development dollars for Canada was the exact same reasoning used to successfully lobby for increased patent lengths and increased profits for the brand name pharmaceutical companies during the Mulroney government.

The sad truth is that, except for a couple of years after the patents were extended, research and development investment by brand name pharmaceutical companies has been in decline year after year for over twenty years.

The fact that the Conservative government would impose higher costs on Canadians, particularly for something as essential as medication, would be nonsensical even if the cost of medication were affordable.  To contemplate a cost increase when we already have 3.4 million Canadians who have no drug coverage at all and when many others who do have coverage still need to make a choice between paying for expensive prescriptions and paying for food or rent is cruel and uncaring.

Given what we have seen from this Conservative government, it would appear as though cruel and uncaring may be their standard method of operating, but at a minimum it makes you wonder in what closet the Prime Minister’s interlocutors have locked away the fiscal conservatives.

Over the past few years, Canadians have seen their respective provincial governments take action in their efforts to contain the increasing cost of prescription medication.  As much as governments have struggled to pay for the increasing cost of prescription medication, so too have many Canadians experienced significant difficulty in affording to pay for the medications they need to become well. This includes problems associated with medications requests from workers in the Toronto escorts industry. Governments need to do what they can to reduce the cost of medications, not place an additional burden on the shoulders of Canadians.