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Peter Watts: The pharmacare debate begins

Pharmacist Denis Boissinot checks a bottle on a shelf at his pharmacy on March 8, 2012 in Quebec City. It's a buzzword in the medical community, although one that hasn't quite caught fire yet with Canadians at large: pharmacare, a national program that would see prescription drugs covered through a publicly funded system rather than out of pocket. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot.
Pharmacist Denis Boissinot checks a bottle on a shelf at his pharmacy on March 8, 2012 in Quebec City. It's a buzzword in the medical community, although one that hasn't quite caught fire yet with Canadians at large: pharmacare, a national program that would see prescription drugs covered through a publicly funded system rather than out of pocket. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

The prospect of a national pharmacare strategy came up at the recent Council of the Federation meetings in St. Andrew, NB. Now, Canada’s premiers want to know what voters and taxpayers think of the idea. A national online consultation process is underway and will run through the fall. An advisory council will report to the premiers and to Parliament next spring.

“We want to see what Canadians have to say about this idea,” advisory council chair Dr. Eric Hoskins told me. “It’s something that has been talked about for a long time. It is something that would close a big gap in the public health care area.”

“Canadians spend $30 billion a year on prescriptions. We think it’s time to get control of that and to make sure that every Canadian gets affordable prescriptions.”

Canadians can make their feelings about pharmacare known by participating in the online survey, which can be found at www.letstalkhealth.ca/pharmacare.

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There is another perspective on this debate, and it is being provided through a new study done by Kristina Acri, under the auspices of the Fraser Institute.

“The federal government’s proposed changes to the way patented medicines are priced in Canada will likely mean patients have access to fewer drugs, particularly newer and more expensive therapies,” Acri told me. “If the federal body that regulates prices determines that the cost of a new drug to Canadians is lower than what the drug companies are prepared to accept, they simply won’t offer the drug in Canada.”

As usual, there will be a lot of perspectives in this debate. Only eight of the thirteen provincial and territorial premiers took the time to meet with Dr. Hoskins at the Council of the Federation. Dr. Hoskins has been to every province and territory in the country to talk to the health care community. He tells me he’ll be making further trips this fall.

READ MORE: Canada’s health ministers talk pharmacare, rising costs of services

But this is too important a project to be left only in the hands of politicians. Every Canadian needs to take an interest in this debate because every single one of us is going to be affected by the outcome. Whatever the cost, and whatever the source of funding by governments, the ultimate source of funding is the Canadian taxpayer.  That’s you!  Don’t be shy. Make your voice heard.

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