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British Columbia National pharmacare a focus of premiers ahead of ministers’ meetings

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark said the federal government must ‘get back to a fairer method of funding health care,’ that takes into consideration a province’s proportion of seniors and their needs, on Jan. 18.

DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Premier of British Columbia and Ontario's Health Minister say a national pharmacare plan – one that goes beyond an agreement by provinces and the federal government to buy drugs in bulk – should be a key consideration as provincial health ministers meet this week with their federal counterpart.

Premier Christy Clark said Monday the federal government must "get back to a fairer method of funding health care," that takes into consideration a province's proportion of seniors and their needs.

Beyond that, however, she said a pharmacare program would be "a really good idea for Canada."

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But the Canadian Pharmacists Association is warning against the idea, saying such a plan would cost six times more than projected in a study last year and is based on several faulty assumptions.

The association is releasing Pharmacare Costing in Canada this week, a 32-page study that states advice given to the federal government last July is flawed. Instead, the association said a pharmacare program would cost closer to $6.6-billion – rather than the $1-billion projected in the earlier study. It also calls for alternatives to restructuring and consolidating prescription health coverage.

The association says these options would not reduce the quality of health coverage for Canadians.

Although a spokesperson for B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake said national pharmacare will not be on the meeting agenda, Ms. Clark – who will not be attending the meetings this week – enthusiastically described such a program as a compelling goal for Canadian health care.

"It has been attempted before by premiers and didn't end up happening, but perhaps the time is now because premiers have been talking about this for a long time and it would be great if our federal government wants to come to the table and help make that happen," she told reporters following a speech on another subject.

Eric Hoskins, the Ontario Heath Minister, noted Monday that he has been advocating for a national pharmacare program for some time, and is pleased to see federal Liberal government interested in a pan-Canadian program to co-ordinate bulk buying of pharmaceuticals to reduce costs.

In a statement, he expressed his interest in a broader national pharmacare program.

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"There is obviously a great deal more work that will need to be done on that front and this won't be something that happens overnight," wrote the minister, a physician who last year convened a roundtable on the issue with provincial and territorial ministers. "I look forward to continuing our discussions on pharmacare, drug prices and access to medicines in Vancouver this week."

Andrew MacKendrick, the press secretary for federal Health Minister Jane Philpott, said, "Canadians can expect many of the important health-care issues in the news lately to be discussed" at the meeting.

Perry Eisenschmid, chief executive officer of the pharmacists association, said his organization had "absolutely" issued its study to get in on the debate as health ministers begin talks with a new federal government.

"That's the intention – to try to get some attention on this important issue as the health ministers are meeting," he said Monday from Ottawa.

"It's clear the federal government wants to get more engaged in the health file across Canada right now – make it more than just about money," he said. "We think national pharmacare is one of the areas they will be looking at and we think we have a valuable contribution to make in that debate."

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