Cutting Pharmacare would be a costly mistake, says Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

September 6, 2001

(Vancouver) The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says that if the provincial government cuts Pharmacare, it will be a costly mistake for British Columbians. "The ideas being floated by the BC Liberals aren't about cutting costs, they are merely about shifting costs," says Colleen Fuller, a health care researcher and associate with the CCPA. "People will still need drugs, so cutting Pharmacare simply means transferring costs onto individuals and employers."

"Higher user fees mean lower-income people may go without necessary drugs, possibly resulting in higher hospital costs later," says Dan Cohn, Assistant Professor of Political Science at SFU and associate with the CCPA. "If the government is facing fiscal constraints, why would it cut a program that in all likelihood saves it money?"

According to Alan Cassels, a pharmaceutical policy researcher and associate with the CCPA, "If the government were really interested in controlling costs, they wouldn't be contemplating the elimination of the reference-based pricing system. Rather, they would be looking at the problem of inapropriately-prescribed drugs, and they would be tackling direct-to-consumer marketing and extended patents."

There is clear evidence that a public pharmacare system is both more equitable and more efficient. "The government claims BC's Pharmacare program is too generous. But looking at public expenditures alone does not tell the full story," says Marcy Cohen, Chair of the CCPA's BC Office. "According to data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information, when public and private spending are combined, BC spends less than any other province. That tells us our system is working."

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The efficiency of a public pharmacare system was highlighted in a recent CCPA study by Dr. Joel Lexchin. Dr. Lexchin's study found that governments, through bulk purchasing, are better able to control costs.

The question is about more than efficiency, however. "Pharmacare is an important universal program," says Seth Klein, Director of the Centre's BC Office. "People shouldn't have to pay for medically-necessary treatment, period. Cutting Pharmacare puts the Liberal's tax cuts in true perspective: for many people, what they save in taxes they will now spend on drugs."