August 4, 2015

Edmonton Journal (original post here)
Sarah Hanafi

I’ve learned a lot over the course of my first year of medical school, but one of the biggest lessons has also been the hardest pill to swallow: despite my best clinical judgment, many of my prescription slips will go ignored because my patients simply cannot afford them.

Thanks to a recent study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, we know that a universal public drug plan, one facilitated by the federal government and run by the provinces, would provide coverage for prescription drugs to all Canadians. Further, such a plan would not only be economically feasible but cost-effective: Canadians could save $7.3 billion a year.

Despite evidence on the benefits of pharmacare, we have yet to give due attention to what a Canadian city like Edmonton would stand to gain from such a plan.

Through pharmacare, we would improve the health and well-being of Edmontonians, many of whom are forced to leave their prescriptions unfilled due to cost (according to a recent report, one in five Canadians are currently in this position). By ensuring access to medicines, we will see fewer patients in emergency rooms suffering from avoidable exacerbations of their chronic conditions.

Pharmacare is not only good for the health of Edmontonians, it can also strengthen our city’s economy.

Edmonton is one of Canada’s youngest cities — the only one in the nation to get younger between 2006 and 2011. Yet 75 per cent of young workers (employees 15-24 years old) do not have access to employer-provided health benefits. I recall a young truck driver I saw in clinic who was suffering from a severe form of Crohn’s disease. Lacking employer benefits, the monthly $3,000 cost of medication, an infusion of infliximab, was just too high. Instead, he had to accept the high likelihood of multiple hospitalizations with each flare of his Crohn’s disease, which left him in excruciating pain.

Pharmacare is good for business in other ways too. As prescription drug use and costs continue to climb, businesses are struggling to sustain drug plans for their employees. By implementing a pharmacare plan, private sector employers and unions would save over $5.5 billion, allowing Edmonton’s businesses to guarantee the health of their employees at a much lower cost.

Pharmacare also has something to offer those focused on cost-effective government. It would decrease the amount of money that the City of Edmonton currently spends on employees’ benefits. Local governments in Canada spend as much as $500 million every year on prescription drugs for their employees. To leave these costs to the cities makes terrible economic sense: We end up paying more for drug plans because cities do not wield as much bargaining power as an entire province or country, and that unnecessarily duplicates administrative costs across the nation. Pharmacare would allow the city to redirect municipal tax money to fund the services we need most, such as the LRT system.

In recent months we’ve seen a host of municipalities in Ontario and Nova Scotia champion pharmacare. A few weeks ago, Vancouver was the first major Canadian city to pass a motion in support of a plan.

Since Mayor Don Iveson’s election, our city has gained a reputation for progressive and innovative municipal politics. Let’s live up to Edmonton’s name in the arena of health care and join other municipalities across Canada in calling for better health for our citizens, for cost savings, and for increased funding for local priorities.

Let’s add our voices, in other words, to the burgeoning call for pharmacare.

Sarah Hanafi is going into her second year of medical school at the University of Alberta, and is on the board of directors of Canadian Doctors for Medicare.