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Liberal-NDP deal promises nothing more than a pharmacare pantomime

Op-ed by Dr. Nav Persaud in The Hill Times

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have each got a lot of political mileage out of past pharmacare announcements. Last week’s vague joint announcement continued the positive coverage, writes Nav Persaud.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh stepped over broken promises about pharmacare walking down the aisle to join Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a confidence and supply agreement. The “marriage” vows included a new promise—not to implement pharmacare, but about “continuing progress” toward a national program by passing legislation next year and making a plan to bulk purchase essential medicines.

…This is one of two ways we will be able to see if the NDP-Liberal will really yield pharmacare. The public subsidy for private insurance plans should be rolled back or cancelled. Back in 2017, the Trudeau government indicated it would re-examine that regressive subsidy that was estimated to be worth $2.9-billion at the time. That’s right, although some naively ask how we can afford pharmacare, the current private insurance system for medicines receives a public subsidy worth well over $3-billion today.

The other test of this commitment to including medicines in our publicly funded system will be by reforming regulations patented drug pricing. Bulk purchasing will not necessarily lower the prices of patented medicines, so price ceilings need to be set and enforced with fines. Currently price ceilings in Canada are set using comparator countries like the United States that pay high prices. Plans to adopt prices paid in countries that do a better job of reigning in drug pricing were postponed in 2018 due to pressure from the pharmaceutical industry and private insurance companies.

How can we tell if industry lobbying is succeeding? Our elected leaders will wave around pharmacare blueprints but never put their work boots on. The status quo will persist and we will keep paying the price.

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