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Opinion: COVID-19 has intensified our need for national pharmacare

By Nav Persaud and Steve Morgan

After coining the term “caremongering” during the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadians have shown each other, and the world, that it’s possible to work together to collectively ensure that everyone’s needs are adequately met. Communities are rallying to support neighbours and strangers alike. Celebrities are raising millions of dollars for charities.

But some problems are too big for community mobilization, which is why robust public policies are still needed to support all Canadians during and after this crisis.

One such policy would be the creation of a national pharmacare program. Since the 1960s, five separate national commissions have recommended that medically necessary prescription drugs be included in Canada’s universal public-health insurance system. Just last year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare produced an evidence-based and practical implementation plan that would begin this year.

Some might question whether Canada can afford national pharmacare in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic as governments face massive deficits, but the case for such a program has never been stronger. Canada’s current patchwork of private and public drug plans wastes billions of dollars each year.

For every citizen, we spend at least 50 per cent more on pharmaceuticals than countries with universal single-payer pharmacare systems (for example, Britain). These other countries do not save money by using fewer medicines than we do – their collective purchasing power yields lower drug prices for brand-name and generic drugs. Canada could do this, too, while improving access to medicines at the same time.

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