How? A national pharmacare program would allow the federal government, along with the provinces and territories, to buy medication in bulk. This would help lower the prices of medication and give us all more leverage as we negotiate drug prices with unified purchasing power.
Currently, we pay more for medications than citizens in almost any other Western nation. Put another way, it’s akin to Canadians paying $60 dollars for a cup of coffee at Tim Horton’s when comparing international prices. This is a serious value gap, and it also puts us at odds with our peers: Canada remains the only industrialized country with universal health insurance but no national pharmacare strategy for its citizens.
The provinces and territories have already demonstrated that we can help close the gap to life-saving medications by negotiating together through the Pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance, which will now have its headquarters here in Ontario. We have started to see substantial savings, but there is more we can do as a country.
I was encouraged by federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose’s commitment after raising the need for a national pharmacare program, and Ontario has been asked to lead these discussions. Success will hinge not just on continuing the conversation, but political courage. After all, such a program will require leadership from both the federal and provincial/territorial levels. We will need to work together, in partnership, to embrace this idea whose time has come.
It took political will in a province to write the first chapter of medicare. I believe the momentum is building across the country for the next chapter: national pharmacare. And I’m confident it’s a chapter we can write together.
Dr. Eric Hoskins is Ontario’s Minister of Health and Long-Term Care.