Opinion

Stewart: Writing out the proper prescription for health care system

Whether to regulate their blood pressure, manage arthritis, or combat clinical depression, a lot of British Columbians rely on prescription drugs.

Unfortunately, they can be expensive, particularly “name brand” drugs —especially for seniors on a fixed income.

Making sure people have access to affordable prescription drugs is the idea behind Bill 35, the Pharmaceutical Services Act, introduced in April by Health Minister Michael de Jong.

One of the ways provincial governments across Canada have dealt with rising health care costs, without reducing services, is by ensuring drug costs remain reasonable.

The best way to do that is by lowering generic drug prices.

As you probably know, in B.C.  that’s done via PharmaCare. But what you may not realize is that PharmaCare isn’t actually enshrined into law.

That is, until now.

If you’re lucky enough not to need any medication, you may not be as familiar with PharmaCare, which subsidizes prescription drug costs based on income.

Some 10 per cent of those registered (approximately 274,000 people) receive full coverage, with PharmaCare paying the full cost of their prescriptions.

Currently, it operates as a series of concurrent plans under the Continuing Care Act.

This arrangement worked reasonably well —it’s the best public drug plan in Canada—but PharmaCare is a complex $1 billion program, and has essentially outgrown this approach.

Since 2001, the budget for PharmaCare has nearly doubled to $1.1 billion.

It can be difficult to enforce policies or manage costs of a program that isn’t clearly defined and enshrined by legislation.

The Pharmaceutical Services Act makes sure PharmaCare remains in place for generations to come—and that prescription drugs remain affordable.

As of April 2, 2012, generic drugs cost 35 per cent of the brand name price in B.C.

There’s no doubt that’s helpful, but bringing the cost down further has been difficult without the proper legislation.

For example, in Ontario generic drugs currently cost 25 per cent of the brand name price, and their government indicated it may reduce prices for some generics further, down to 20 per cent.

Clearly, B.C. needed to act to keep pace, and we have. When the Pharmaceutical Services Act is passed, it will allow us to further lower generic drug prices, to bring them in line with other jurisdictions.

It’s important to point out that reduced drug costs benefit everyone, not just those registered with PharmaCare.

We worked hard to come to an agreement on generic drug prices with the major stakeholders in 2010.

We were hopeful that this agreement would meet the needs of both the province and our partners.

Unfortunately, the savings in the agreement did not materialize.

This Act will allow our government to further lower generic drug prices, to bring them in line with other jurisdictions.

Ontario faced this question as well, and serves as a case study to see if there would be any ill effect.

It showed there was no net loss of pharmacies after the introduction of generic drug price legislation.

I’m often asked why I decided to get into politics, and the simple truth is it’s the best way to try and make a positive change.

The Pharmaceutical Services Act is a good piece of legislation that will help people. I’m proud to support it.

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