Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak today to the motion of my colleague, the member for Vancouver Kingsway, because this is something that is extremely important to understand. It is something that would allow us to do so much for the health of Canadians.
Listening to all the members who spoke before me, it was clear that none of them had any doubt that implementing universal pharmacare in Canada would save us millions of dollars. I do not want to dwell too much on this point because it is so obvious. All the studies show that there would be savings to be made. No one has ever said that it would cost us more than the current system. Since that has been laid out very clearly, I will not dwell on it any further.
Someone also mentioned the system in Quebec, the first one in Canada. Quebec's system was in some ways a response to a particular situation. We wanted to make sure that everyone would at least have access to pharmacare, but it is by no means a perfect system. Even the health minister knows that it is not perfect. That is why he is interested in having a truly universal system, and why he is open to discussions. We do not usually see a Quebec health minister who is interested in a national program. In this case, he is interested because he is aware of the potential cost savings and he knows that it could be more efficient than our current system.
I will try to clearly describe the limitations of the Quebec system. If an individual does not have access to insurance provided by an employer, he or she must take the government insurance. If this person does have access to a pharmacare plan provided by an employer, they are required to take it.
The problem is that some employers have substantially increased the price of pharmacare insurance for different reasons, and contracts are individually negotiated by the employers. Given that the employees of an employer in a sector with higher risks will use more prescription drugs, that employer's insurance premiums will be higher. Thus, people are forced to sign up for a pharmacare plan that is more expensive than the government's because it is the only one they can access. They are also required to take their employer's pharmacare plan even if they do not have the money for the premiums.
Take the example of an employee who starts working as an orderly in a private centre. At first, he may work one shift a week or every two weeks, depending on the staff schedule. He might work a relief shift or an on-call shift. He might work one week and perhaps earn $100. If the pharmacare premium is $60 a month, almost his entire salary will be used to pay for the insurance that he is required to take. Employer pharmacare plans do not take into account an employee's ability to pay. Most of the time, it is a fixed monthly rate, no matter the ability to pay. That is one of the significant limitations of the Quebec system, and the minister is well aware of it. It is not a perfect system. That is why he opened the door to universal pharmacare.
I would like to talk about all the savings we could achieve if we had universal pharmacare. Granted, they are not always easy to calculate, but they are still eye-opening. Since we have medicare, we often forget how much a hospital visit can cost. We forget that a stay in intensive care can cost in the tens of thousands, and that is just for a couple of days. Hospitalization is expensive. We tend to forget that because, at the end of the day, we do not see the bill. After we go to the hospital, none of us here ever see the bill that shows how much it would have cost if we did not have medicare. Since we are less aware of this, we do not realize just how much we could save if Canadians had equal access to drugs. One thing we noticed was that people who are not covered will often wait before consulting a doctor, because they do not have the money to pay for their medication. At the end of the day, when they do decide to consult, their condition has worsened to such a degree that they now require more advanced, and much more expensive, treatment.
The same is true when it comes to medication. When people are unable to pay for the medication they need, they do not take it and just hope that they will get better. Their health deteriorates, but they tell themselves they will be careful. They finally get to a point where their health is so bad that treatment ends up costing a lot more money than if we had just been able to provide them with the medication they needed in the first place.
It costs a lot less to provide prescription drugs to a person with heart problems than to care for someone who has had a heart attack and needs a triple bypass, stents, or some other form of surgery, and a hospital stay in intensive care.
This is not necessarily as easy to quantify as just calculating the cost of the drugs, as the parliamentary budget officer did, but it is possible. When people can take better care of their health, it can save money.
A universal pharmacare program would also save money when it comes to access to information and related health interventions. Since we do not have a universal pharmacare program right now, it is very difficult to learn about doctors' prescribing habits, to find out whether they are prescribing the right drugs or if they are prescribing too many drugs. It is impossible to look at the data.
A universal pharmacare program would provide access to data that would help us get a much more accurate picture of the health profile and make more effective interventions, for example in prevention. Doctors could be monitored and prevented from over-prescribing drugs. As things stand now, that data is not easy to get because it is stored in a number of private medical insurance programs. That is another aspect that is not quantifiable.
Many times, private firms are commissioned to conduct health studies in order to gauge what is happening in the area. However, a universal pharmacare program would provide access to that data much more easily, which would translate into more effective health care interventions.
It is not easy to implement such a program. Nevertheless, with the provinces amenable to the idea, the public would be better served with a universal pharmacare program. We could better monitor various health problems and do more for patients. We would avoid complications, and we could ensure that much less expensive generic drugs were prescribed instead of brand-name drugs.
This program will result in greater financial efficiency in patient care and public health. For that reason it is very important that we move forward on this file. We must create this program for all Canadians. It will also prevent the unfairness created when some medications are covered by a private pharmacare plan while others are not. For example, some public pharmacare plans only cover oral contraceptives even though there have been many changes in contraception and birth control, with products such as patches, contraceptive rings, and IUDs, which provide more effective contraception for women who have problems with the contraceptive pill.
People do not always make the best choices when it comes to their health, because pharmacare plans often do not provide choice, even though other methods of contraception exist and the monthly cost is about the same. People have to make choices based on what their pharmacare plan offers. Unfortunately, when a decision is not based on what is best for someone in a given situation, it is less likely that it will be effective or that the medication will be taken properly.
A universal pharmacare plan providing coverage for a broad range of medications will help health professionals. They would be able to choose a medication based on the needs of their patients, while helping them better manage their health.