Mr. Speaker, today I will be splitting my time with the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue.
As the seniors critic for the NDP, I am sadly too familiar with the cost barriers of medications in our country for the most vulnerable of us. I am pleased that the House of Commons is taking the time to discuss the implementation of a universal pharmacare program. Without the hard work and dedication of our health critic, the member for Vancouver Kingsway, I am not sure we would be in this position today to address it in such a credible fashion.
I have consulted with seniors across my riding and heard from many across Canada. I hear too many disheartening stories, and too many of them are focused on the high cost of prescription drugs.
Too many senior Canadians are sharing the reality that they are facing with increasing poverty. Affording the essential medication they need as they age is a barrier that is only increasing. I have heard from seniors who are taking their medication every second day to make it last, and from health care professionals who are desperately working to find the most affordable medication, because too many of their patients are not able to afford the costs and therefore not taking what they need to support their health.
Sadly, Canada is the only country with a universal health care system that does not have universal coverage of prescription drugs. I think it is time to change that.
Seniors 65 and older are the heaviest users of prescription drugs in this country. The majority of seniors are using multiple drugs. In fact, 62% of seniors on public drug programs are using five or more drug classes. This gets very expensive, very fast.
There is a reason I believe we need a universal pharmacare program. The statistics paint a crying need for federal leadership. Here are a few examples. British Columbia shows the highest levels of access to medication problems, at 29%. One in five Canadians report that either they or a family member neglects to fill prescriptions due to cost. In fact, we heard evidence of this reality this week at HUMA committee, where we are studying a national seniors strategy, from Ms. Wanda Morris at CARP who confirmed this very clearly.
Canada currently has the second highest rate among comparable countries of skipped prescriptions due to cost. This ends up costing our health care system much more in the long run, as untreated conditions get worse, resulting in preventable hospital stays and doctor visits.
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives estimates that between 5.4% and 6.5% of hospital admissions are the result of non-adherence, resulting in costs as high as $1.63 billion. In a country like Canada, this is a horrifying statistic.
Spending is also increasing. Public drug spending on seniors increased from $603 million in 2002 to $1 billion in 2008. By 2036, the number of seniors will double. How many more billions are we going to spend before we actually take action and do something?
In September 2016, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health asked the parliamentary budget officer to provide a cost estimate of implementing a national pharmacare program. The committee provided the program's framework, including the inclusive list of drugs to be covered by pharmacare.
The PBO costing found out that, in 2015-16, Canadians spent $28.5 billion on pharmaceuticals. Of this, $24.6 billion would have been eligible for coverage under a national pharmacare plan. Accounting for pricing and consumption changes, the PBO estimates that Canada would have only spent $20.4 billion in 2015-16 under a national pharmacare program. The reality is that this place would have saved $4.2 billion in 2016, if action were actually taken.
The PBO is not the only credible source to suggest a universal pharmacare program is sound economic policy.
In 2015, a report authored by Canada's leading health policy experts was published, entitled “Pharmacare 2020: The future of drug coverage in Canada”. This study estimates that universal pharmacare would result in public and private savings of between $4 billion and $11 billion per year under reasonable assumptions.
Pharmacare would yield significant savings for Canadians, principally because of the increased spending power it would bring. During price negotiations drug companies often inflate the price of their drugs and provide confidential rebates based on the bargaining power of each purchaser. Universality would further increase Canada's bargaining power by extending coverage to every single Canadian.
All Canadians understand the real reason we need to be having this conversation.
The most common drug class used by seniors is to lower cholesterol levels. Is it normal that a year's supply of a widely used cholesterol drug costs about $143 in Canada but only $27 in the United Kingdom and Sweden and under $15 in New Zealand?
Canadians pay among the highest prescription drug costs in the industrialized world, second only to the United States.
The administration costs of for-profit private plans are also enormous, around 15%, while administration costs for public plans are less than 2%. This is just good fiscal policy. Replacing private plans by a universal public plan would not only reduce wasteful spending, but it would save Canadians an additional $1.3 billion a year in administrative costs.
An overwhelming majority of Canadians, 91% in fact, expressed support for the concept of a national pharmacare program that would provide universal access to prescription drugs. That is not a surprise, when millions of Canadians cannot access the essential medication they need when they need it. That is simply not right.
Tommy Douglas, the father of medicare, never intended to create such an odd gap in Canadian health care coverage. Prescription drugs and other services were always meant to be integrated into a system of comprehensive public coverage along with hospital and physician services.
Today I stand before the House, as New Democrats have for over half a century, to proudly proclaim our belief that health care in Canada must be a right and not a privilege.
With the recent release of the PBO's report, it is clearer than ever that a national pharmacare program is not only good for the health of all Canadians but also sound economic policy for all Canadians, especially our seniors.
Our motion today calls on the government to commence negotiations with the provinces no later than October 1, 2018, in order to implement a universal pharmacare program. With a little political will we can finally make this happen for all Canadians.