Friday, July 24, 2015

A Tale To Frighten Children (And Uninformed Canadians)

Well, the Globe and Mail is up to its usual agenda of promoting the neocon vision. Not content to let Canadians ruminate on ideas unimpeded by thinly-disguised corporate ideology and scaremongering, it is attempting to sow doubt about a plan that would potentially benefit all Canadians, national pharmacare, whose time has surely come.

For a small primer on the concept, you could check out a post I wrote about two years ago, or conduct a Google search, which will yield some compelling links, including this one:
Canada is the only industrialized country with universal health insurance that does not offer universal prescription drug coverage, and statistics show one in 10 Canadians cannot afford to pay for their medications.
From an economic viewpoint, there is a compelling case to be made for pharmacare. Consider this report, entitled Pharmacare 2020 — The Future of Drug Coverage in Canada, an analysis of which conducted by The Star yielded these conclusions:
Not only would a national pharmacare program ensure that all Canadians have access to drugs they need, it would save billions of dollars. Authored by six health policy experts, the study was published by the Pharmaceutical Policy Research Collaboration at the University of British Columbia.
Pharmacare is the answer. Potential savings from bulk-buying through a single system are substantial. The study’s authors cited the example of Lipitor. A year’s supply of this brand name cholesterol-lowering drug costs at least $811 in Canada, according to the report. In New Zealand, where a public authority negotiates prices for the entire country, it’s $15. “In terms of drug prices, Canada’s multi-payer system is among the most expensive in the world,” they conclude.
Because the arguments in favour of a universal drug plan are compelling, and because it is enjoying a certain momentum, the reactionary right is now starting a smear campaign to undermine enthusiasm, one based on manipulative polling, lies, and half-truths.

Entitled The risks that come with a national pharmacare program, the author of this Globe article, Yanick Labrie (more about him shortly), refers to a recent Angus Reid poll which
found that 91 per cent of Canadians support “the concept of a national ‘pharmacare’ in Canada, that would provide universal access to prescription drugs ...” But they may not be ready to pick up the tab. The survey also found that 70 per cent are against increasing the GST to 6 per cent – from the current 5 per cent – to pay for the program. If you’re not willing to pay for something you want, that may be a sign you don’t really want it that badly.
What Labrie omits here is also the finding that the majority would prefer that it be paid through an increase in corporate taxes, a not unreasonable preference, in my view.

Next, the writer warns of what we might be giving up if we embrace pharmacare:
Canadians should be wary of replacing our mixed system with something like what exists in the U.K. or New Zealand. Socializing a larger part of drug spending through a single-payer pharmacare plan would give more power to government and its bureaucrats to make decisions on behalf of the insured. Policies that restrict access to new medicines would be applied across the board and would penalize all Canadians in the same way.
The implication that this would be tantamount to allowing a 'death-panel' bureaucrat to determine your fate is clearly there. What Labrie doesn't mention is that the decisions on adding new drugs to provincial drug formularies are already made for costly drugs, most of which are not covered by private plans anyway. The case of the cystic fibrosis drug Kalydeco is instructional in this regard. The final decision in that case saw Ontario deciding to fund it.

The above also demonstrates a strategy commonly used by the right: absolutism. There is nothing in any concept of pharmacare that I have ever read that would preclude any of us from still carrying private insurance. Yet read the following assertion by Labrie:
According to a recent online survey conducted by Abacus Data for the Canadian Pharmacists Association, 80 per cent of respondents support the idea of a national prescription-drug program. But only 31 per cent favour replacing our current mixed public-private systems, managed by the provinces, with a national, government-run pharmacare monopoly.
Monopoly? Who said anything about a monopoly? As well, take a look at the Abacus online survey he refers to.

A patently manipulative push poll commissioned by pharmacists, consider the biases built into the following questions:
While many Canadians want enhanced access to medications, many Canadians are also concerned about the cost of a national pharmacare program, losing their private drug plans, and the ability of governments to administrate drug plans effectively.

Which approach to pharmacare comes closest to your view?
The result?
Overall, a plurality of Canadians believed that pharmacare should only cover those Canadians who are not currently covered through some other existing government or private plan.
Here's another:
To what extent are you concerned about the following issues related to a national pharmacare program?

Replacing your current private prescription drug plan with a public plan that would have fewer choices

Increased cost to governments if patients use more prescription drugs than they do now

The ability of governments to administer the plan efficiently and effectively
The result?
Although Canadians were supportive of the proposed national pharmacare plan, most said they would be concerned if a national pharmacare program replaced their current plan with a public plan that had fewer options, if it increased costs to governments because patients use more prescription drugs than they do now, and of the ability of governments to administer the plan efficiently and effectively.
I could go on, but I would encourage you to visit the poll results to see more of the questions asked that guarantee the results the pharmacists sought.

I promised at the start that I would say more about the author of this article, Yanick Labrie, who is described as an economist at the Montreal Economic Institute. A visit to the website will tell you all you need to know about its ideological and economic leanings, as will as a list of present and former executive members, which includes former Harper favourite Maxime Bernier and right-wing commentator and analyst Tasha Kheiriddin. The vice president is currently Jasmin Guénette, former director of public affairs who came back after spending two years at the Institute for Humane Studies in Virginia, an organization that can most charitably be described as an American libertarian outfit.

By all means, let us have a national debate about pharmacare. But let it be an honest one that leaves aside the demagoguery and distortions that currently abound on this issue.


  1. I believe pharmacare is needed, Lorne. But it does look a possibility in the near future. If Harper can have his way he will privatize healthcare altogether. I understand Quebec is moving in that direction i.e. privatizing healthcare.

    To my knowledge Liberals and NDP are silent on this issue.

    1. Pharmacare has been notably absent so far in the unofficial campaign, LD. I can only hope that changes as we get closer to the election.

    2. With a regime bent on dismantling our widely admired, universal, single-payer, not-for-profit, government sponsored and replacing it with a for profit, two or even thee-tier system that would be worse than the American one pre-Obamacare, the notion of a national Pharmacare program remains laughable at best in the minds of Stephen Harper and his unthinking cabal of Dime Store Nazis, no matter how desirable or even critical such a plan may be to the rest of us. All the more reason to remove these treasonous ratbastards from power by any and all means possible after the writ is dropped...if we can...


    3. I have no doubt that millions of Canadians, including me, would completely concur with your sentiments, Neil. The question is, can we get them out to the polls in October/