'Big Money' stands in pharmacare's way, says nurses' union president

by Leo Almazora09 Apr 2019

The recently released interim report of the Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare, along with some funding provided in the recent federal budget, should be a win for advocates of such a system in Canada. But according to the head of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (CFNU), that’s not enough.

In a column published by Huffington Post Canada, Linda Silas noted the three recommendations by the advisory council in their report: “the creation of a national drug agency; a national formulary of prescribed drugs; and IT systems to support both — baby steps in the right direction, with some funding in the recent federal budget.”

She went on to stress the urgent need for a Canada-wide pharmacare program. Citing statistics from a recent national survey, she said that at least 20% of Canadians have inadequate or no drug coverage, while another 23% reported that they or a member of their household had to forgo the medication they needed because of the cost. “In 2016, over 700,000 Canadians had to forego spending on food to afford their prescription medications,” she added, citing a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ).

But despite the need for the program, she said, progress has been impeded by “[d]eep-pocketed interests” that benefit from Canada’s current private-public drug-plan system patchwork as well as considerable pharmaceutical costs. “[W]e call them the ‘Big Money Club,’” she said, referring to a recent CFNU report.

According to Silas, the “Big Money Club” consists of pharmaceutical titans, insurance giants, and billionaires residing here and abroad. Based on the report, pharmaceutical firms and insurance sectors are currently enjoying an immensely profitable environment that costs the rest of the Canadian population.

“Pharmaceutical giants are living in a golden age of profits (over 20 per cent per year),” she wrote. Focusing on drug prices, she referred to statistics from the Patented Medicines Pricing Review Board (PMPRB) that show how high-priced patented drugs now represent 40% of the share of drug sales in Canada. She added that health insurance companies in Canada, which have been deregulated snce the ‘90s, are enjoying billions in profits from the health benefits market.

As proof of the desire of the different players to retain their stake, Silas pointed to lobbying and targeted advertisements released by the “Big Money Club” into Parliament Hill between 2017 and 2018. She also referred to the “echo-chambers of opposition” to national pharmacare, apparently made to sow doubt among the public through mainstream media. Finally, there’s an apparent effort to call on Washington, DC to put diplomatic and commercial pressure on Canada.

“What we don't want in Canada is ‘fake pharmacare’ — a fill-the-gaps mix of public and private insurance that would benefit the Big Money Club, but lose all the advantages of a single-payer system, which would provide bargaining power and lower drug prices,” she said.