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A prescription for better medicine -- why Canadians need a national pharmacare program

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Yesterday, the Council of Canadians were at a meeting in Toronto where the provincial and territorial health and finance ministers were discussing the future of medicare in Canada. These meetings were prior to today's meeting meeting with federal health minister Jane Philpott. 

Council of Canadians Health Campaigner, Michael Butler, highlighted, "The provincial, territorial, and federal health ministers have a historic opportunity before them. Medicare is at a crossroads and we need to put the health of Canadians first as negotiations progress. The health of our friends, families, and communities is too important for the reckless game of chicken that is happening between the federal and provincial governments."

Today the Council of Canadians releassed a landmark report, A Prescription for Better Medicine: Why Canadians need a national pharmacare program, that highlights the current Health Accord negotiations offer a pragmatic opportunity to implement universal pharmacare.

"Canada has the distinction of being the only developed country with a universal health care system that does not include universal prescription drug benefits," says Michael Butler. "Universal pharmacare would have more of a positive impact on the wellbeing of Canadians than any other policy change, while saving as much as $11 billion annually. No one should have to choose between buying food for their family, paying rent or getting the medications they need. All Canadians deserve equal access to safe and effective medically necessary drugs. It is time to finish writing the final chapter in the story of medicare."

The report makes the case that Big Pharma has put profits before patients for far too long, while governments have sat on the sidelines. From the current opioid crisis to the skyrocketing price of drugs, Canada's pharmaceutical policies don’t serve people's best interests. A universal pharmacare program would provide a desperately needed tool to improve patient safety, prescribing appropriateness, therapeutic value, evidence-based drug evaluations, clinical trial transparency, better drug monitoring and post-market surveillance, among other initiatives.

"We need better medicine, not more medicine. Doubling down on our current patchwork system will only increase the influence of Big Pharma and the inequality that influence has created," says Butler. "Polls show 91 per cent of Canadians support a universal pharmacare plan. The missing ingredient is federal leadership. The Health Accord negotiations are the perfect time to commit to a more compassionate society where all Canadians have the right to good health and better medicine. Now is the time for universal pharmacare."

The report also debunks claims that universal pharmacare is not affordable, as evidence shows it is the key to affordability. Equally important, a pharmacare program would be an important tool to coordinate a wide range of pharmaceutical policies and create an evidence-based national formulary. With pharmacare comes the opportunity to improve drug price reviews at the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board and create real transparency at Health Canada. 

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