Canadians need a national drug plan. STAT.

A new report co-authored by Chatelaine columnist Dr. Danielle Martin says a national pharmacare plan could save Canadians $7.3 billion per year. But it's not just a money issue — our health depends on it.

Photo credit, iStock.

Photo, iStock.

If there’s one thing Canadians love to brag about — not counting our hockey prowess — it’s healthcare. You might be shocked to know, then, that our prescription-drug system is, put simply, a hot mess. “We are a laggard by international standards,” says Dr. Danielle Martin, VP of Toronto’s Women’s College Hospital (and, as of our April issueChatelaine‘s resident MD). In fact, every developed country with a universal healthcare system has a national drug-coverage plan — except Canada.

The push for a nation-wide pharmacare policy dates back to 1964, but it was never implemented amid fears of massive tax hikes. But brand-new research by Martin and her colleagues aims to debunk those worries once and for all. According to the study, published last week in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, a national pharmacare plan would save Canadians $7.3 billion a year. (We collectively spent $22 billion on drugs between 2012 and 2013.)

We asked Martin to outline the greatest barriers to affordable, regulated drugs for all Canadians under our current system — especially for women — and why she believes a nation-wide prescription plan could resolve them.

Issue 1: Access
“Lots of Canadians don’t have access to life-saving prescription drugs — in fact, one in 10 Canadians doesn’t take their medicine as prescribed because of cost concerns. Under a universal pharmacare program, we would essentially be bringing prescription drugs under medicare. There would be a single plan, publicly paid for, that would cover all Canadians for their medically necessary prescriptions.”

Issue 2: Cost
“We overpay [for medication] by a huge amount in Canada. We have among the highest drug prices in the world. If we had a national plan, where we were able to bulk-purchase our drugs for the country, we’d get much better value for the money we spend. This would allow us to cover everyone without having to raise taxes.”

Issue 3: Women’s health
“There are three cohorts of women currently falling through the cracks: the first is young women who don’t have coverage through their employers, often because they work part-time or in lower paying jobs. Because they are in their reproductive years, and are often using contraception, they need prescription medicines more often than young men in the same age group. The second is women in their middle years who have no coverage. Many men also fall into this group, but women in particular have higher rates of part-time work and contract work, which tend not to come with benefits or prescription insurance. The third is older women. Seniors need more prescriptions than younger people in general, and women live longer than men. There are 2.5 women over age 85 in Canada for every man, which means that high co-payments and deductibles for medicines have a disproportionately greater impact on women.”

Issue 4: Over-prescribing
“We have a big problem with over-prescribing and inappropriate prescribing of medication in Canada. For example, one in four Canadian seniors takes medications that are on the Beers List, a list of drugs that should virtually never be prescribed to seniors. Having a national plan based on evidence, free of interference from industry and from politics, could greatly enhance the quality of prescriptions. What we want is not a system where everyone gets everything all the time; we want people to get what they need and not what’s bad for them.”