Mr. Speaker, I rise today to debate the opposition motion calling on the government to commence negotiations with the provinces to implement a national pharmacare program.
Our government is committed to protecting and promoting the health and safety of all Canadians. We are also committed to improving the affordability, accessibility, and appropriate use of prescription drugs within our country.
As the member is likely aware, the Standing Committee on Health, better known as HESA, is studying the development of a national pharmacare program as an insured service under the Canada Health Act. As part of the study, the committee asked the parliamentary budget officer to prepare an estimate of the cost of a universal federal pharmacare program. The results of the study were published on September 28 of this year. Based on it, the member has called on the government to begin negotiations with the provinces and territories no later than October 1, 2018, in order to implement a universal pharmacare program.
Mr. Speaker, our government is well aware that we need to improve access to necessary prescription drugs and make them more affordable for all Canadians.
We need to make the current prescription drug system more effective and flexible before we begin discussions on the national medicare program. Our government is taking bold action to improve the system in order to reduce the cost of prescription drugs and better manage their use. I would also like to remind members of our government's approach to strengthening the way our health care system deals with prescription drugs.
Prescription medicines contribute directly to the health of Canadians. We all know that. They can help prevent, control, and cure diseases. Health care professionals and providers in hospitals and community settings turn to prescription drugs to help them manage patients' symptoms, improve their well-being, and also to save lives.
New research and discoveries continue to expand the range of conditions and the number of people who could benefit from drug treatment in our country. As such, the use of prescription drugs in evolving. The statistics are very compelling. Health Canada approves about 200 new drugs for the Canadian market every year.
We are seeing a correlation between the aging population, and the increase in chronic conditions and prescription drug use. Nearly 40% of Canadians take at least one prescription drug on a regular basis. That percentage increases to 80% for Canadians 65 and older.
Nearly one in three seniors take at least five different drugs every day. Though that may be of some benefit in some cases, in others we have reason to be concerned about the number of prescription drugs that seniors are taking. At the same time, we are seeing more expensive niche buster drugs designed to treat illnesses that affect smaller populations coming from all over the world. In fact, the number of drugs that cost more than $10,000 per patient, per year, has doubled over the past five years. The number of drugs that cost more than $50,000 per patient, per year, has increased by 50%.
While some of these drugs offer real breakthroughs in patient care, others do little to improve health outcomes. Therefore, stronger management of our use of pharmaceuticals is essential, and the cost demonstrates this. Every year across the system pharmaceuticals account for an ever greater share of health spending in the country. In 2014, drug spending reached $29 billion. That represented about 16% of our health spending. When we add up drug spending for 2016, we expect that amount to grow to about $36 billion a year. That is a significant number.
Clearly, pharmaceuticals play an increasingly important part in Canada's health care system. Unfortunately, even as public and private payers wrestle with the growing costs, Canadians are not getting all of the benefits that this level of investment should provide to them. A key reason for this is that Canadian prices for both patented and generic drugs are high by international standards.
Our patented drug prices are exceeded only by the U.S. and Germany, and we are well above the average for the 35 countries of the OECD. According to the most recent data available, in 2015, OECD generic drug prices were, on average, 28% lower than those in Canada.
There are some other factors that feed the challenges we face in managing the use of pharmaceuticals within this country. For example, Canada's drug review and approval system, which includes federal regulatory review for quality, safety, and efficiencies to determine if a drug should be authorized for sale in Canada, followed by a review of cost-effectiveness by the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health, is cumbersome and needs to be revised.
This system lacks the flexibility to meet patients' needs in a timely manner. These concerns need to be addressed before we can start to consider any expansion to the pharmacare program. That is why our government is tackling these challenges by taking action to improve the affordability, accessibility and appropriate use of prescription drugs for Canadians.
The last federal budget, which was tabled in 2017, supported these actions with an investment of $140 million over 5 years, followed by $18.2 million per year on an ongoing basis. This funding supports the work of Health Canada, the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board, and the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health. In collaboration with pan-Canadian health organizations and our provincial and territorial counterparts, we will work to lower the cost of prescription drugs, provide faster access to new drugs that Canadians need, and improve patient care through more appropriate prescribing practices.
To better protect Canadian consumers and public and private drug plans from excessive patented drug prices, our government is modernizing the way prices are regulated. For the first time in more than 20 years, the Minister of Health will update the patented medicine regulations, which, together with relevant provisions of the Patent Act, provide the PMPRB with the tools and information it needs to monitor and regulate prices in today's pharmaceutical environment.
At the end of June, Health Canada held its first round of public consultations on potential changes. Stakeholders and all interested Canadians will have another opportunity to comment once the regulatory changes are published in Part I of the Canada Gazette later this year. The Government of Canada is also working closely with the provinces and territories to reduce the country's drug costs.
In addition, the Government of Canada is working closely with the provinces and territories to reduce drug costs. As a member of the pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance, established by the provinces in 2010, we are combining the collective purchasing power of all public drug plans in Canada to make prescription drug prices more affordable and to lower generic prices for all payers.
This initiative has been extraordinarily successful. As of March 2017, the work of the alliance has resulted in annual savings of almost $1.3 billion.
Our government also recognizes the importance of supporting breakthrough innovation and giving Canadians quicker access to the new medications they need while continuing to ensure the quality and effectiveness of those drugs. That is why Health Canada launched a new five-year initiative to make the minister a more modern, flexible, and responsive regulator. Under this initiative, the government will harmonize federal medical review procedures with those of its health care partners, such as CADTH. Jointly implementing these programs will speed up decisions about adding new drugs to the list of insured drugs, which means that useful new treatments will be available to Canadians sooner.
In addition, Health Canada will expand its priority review policy and establish new regulatory pathways to expedite the consideration of new drugs that have the potential to meet the pressing needs of patients in the health care system.
The initiative will also see the expanded use of real-world evidence about new drugs after they enter the market. This will ensure that they are as safe and effective as expected and will allow the government to take action if a problem is identified.
Finally, our government will work collaboratively with health system partners to improve the quality and efficiency of patient care through more appropriate prescribing practices. With enhanced federal support, CADTH will develop improved prescribing tools and provide health care practitioners with guidance on the optimal use of drugs and drug products.
All these measures combined will have major repercussions and will make drugs more affordable and more accessible while ensuring the appropriate use of prescription drugs. They will help advance the common interests of the federal, provincial, and territorial governments by improving Canada’s pharmaceuticals management system to ensure that it is sustainable and meets the needs of Canadians.
I wish to add that the federal, provincial, and territorial governments committed to making prescription medication more affordable and our health care more innovative as part of recent discussions on health care funding.
To improve access to prescription medications and lower drug prices, budget 2017 invested over $140 million over five years. As I noted earlier, this will support work by Health Canada and by groups like the PMPRB and CADTH.
To expand e-prescribing, virtual care initiatives, and the adoption and use of electronic medical records, we will invest over $300 million over five years to help support the Canada Health Infoway.
Canada Health Infoway is developing a national secure electronic prescription system, which will contribute to reducing prescription errors, advising pharmacists of potentially harmful drug interactions, and helping patients take their drugs as prescribed.
We are also investing $51 million over three years into the Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement to make our health care system more responsive and innovative.
As well, we plan to invest $53 million over five years for the Canadian Institute for Health Information to improve decision-making and to strengthen the reporting of health-related polices and outcomes.
I appreciate this opportunity to provide the House with this overview of the significant actions this government is taking in this important area that concerns us all. I would like to underscore the important role research plays in providing the kinds of evidence that will support our progress going forward.
As I said earlier, our government understands that, in order to meet the health needs of all Canadians, before anything else, it needs to make Canada's current prescription drug system more efficient and flexible.
We are also confident that the measures we are taking to improve the system will help lower the price of prescription drugs and better manage their use.
Our government is determined to strengthen Canada's health care system by making drugs more affordable and more accessible, while ensuring that prescription drugs are used appropriately.
We look forward to reviewing the parliamentary budget officer's analysis of the costs of a universal national pharmacare program. However, the actions proposed by the member for Vancouver Kingsway, while well-intentioned, would be premature if we have not first achieved the related goals we are pursuing, goals such as bringing down prescription drug prices and improving the management of how these drugs are used in our health care system.
Prescription drugs are an important part of Canada's health care system. They help Canadians by preventing, treating, and healing illness.
That is why making drugs more affordable and accessible has been established as a top shared priority for federal, provincial, and territorial health ministers, while also ensuring the appropriate use of prescription drugs.
As I mentioned, for the first time in more than 20 years, the government is proposing substantial—yes, substantial—amendments to the patented medicine regulations.
As I have noted, for the first time in more than 20 years, the government is proposing major updates to the Patented Medicines Regulations. That is significant. Put simply, we need to make Canada's existing prescription system more efficient and more responsive before we can begin to discuss a national pharmacare program.
In light of all these initiatives and others I have outlined today, I would argue that the government is making progress on a number of these issues and that members of the House should vote against the opposition motion.