A huge part of making sure we enjoy our retirement years is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. But the older we get and the farther we get into retirement, the more we worry about illnesses such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, osteoporosis, and other diseases. As we age our risk for illness grows and so does our reliance on pharmacies and prescriptions.
Canadians enjoy free medicare allowing us to visit the doctor and treat our medical ailments for next to nothing (if we don’t count wait times). However, one area our country is beginning to lag behind the international community is our lack of a national pharmacare program. With the rising cost of treatments and medications it is becoming more and more difficult for average Canadians to afford vital prescriptions.
Right now each of Canada’s provinces has its own pharmacare system. Across the country, there are similarities: people on social assistance receive coverage either for free or for a minimal co-payment, and low-income seniors tend to be partially covered. Many provinces also provide catastrophic coverage for drug costs above a set amount, such as 4% of household income. Private plans also cover some costs.
Canada’s lack of a national pharmacare plan has been subject to rising scrutiny. Our patchwork system means many people aren’t covered. We also have higher costs: Canada pays more for prescription drugs than other OECD countries, something the Pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance is trying to lower by proposing negotiating as a nation. An article published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal reported that the total cost of a national pharmacare program would actually be less than what is currently spent by the combination of public and private drug plans and patients’ payments.
In contrast, countries such as New Zealand and France offer successful nation-wide pharmacare programs. In New Zealand a patient will never pay more than $100 for their prescriptions, bringing countless treatments back into affordability. In France, 99% of the population has their prescription drugs partially covered by the government.
It’s time for Canada to once again step up and show why we have one of the strongest social aid systems in the world. While momentum seems to be building toward the idea of a national pharmacare system, the details remain unclear. These countries provide models for us to learn from and build upon.