John Ivison: NDP’s universal pharmacare proposal seems a prime target for Liberal burglary

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The NDP have been derided as “Liberals in a hurry” but who can blame them? If they don’t rush to market with their most ingenious ideas, the Liberals purloin them.

New Democrat leader, Jagmeet Singh, unveiled his party’s budget proposals at a press conference Tuesday, with a call to close tax loopholes for the “super-rich” and dedicate the savings to implement a universal pharmacare program.

The NDP had the proposal in their last election platform but it’s fair to say it was submerged by the universal day-care plan.

This time it looks as if Singh will go full throttle on cheaper drugs.

The risk, of course, is that the Liberals will call his bluff and actually implement the NDP recommendation.

“I’m concerned about making people’s lives better. And if we push and achieve that result, that would be an amazing thing for people,” he said – though obviously it would not be an amazing thing for Singh or his party.

But he may have tapped into something – the public mood seems primed for changes to the way Canadians pay for prescription drugs that rise in price by about five per cent annually.

It’s estimated that up to one in five families struggle to pay for drugs and Singh talked about seniors cutting their pills in two.

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Canada is alone in having a public healthcare system that does not have a parallel public pharma plan.

The House of Commons health committee is set to release a major report on pharmacare next month, which sources suggest will recommend folding prescription drugs into a negotiated national formulary. Through an amendment to Canada Health Act this would allow the provinces to administer the newly expanded coverage.

But as with all such grandiose designs, it all comes back to who pays?

Since companies that provide health insurance would no longer be on the hook, one idea is to implement a corporate tax, with businesses paying premiums to the government that they used to pay to insurance companies.

If that sounds unlikely, it is because it is.

But the soaring cost of employee drug plans may make the corporate sector more sympathetic than might be imagined. Don Davies, the NDP’s health critic, said he’s never seen such broad stakeholder support, even from employers, because drugs are increasingly expensive.

He said a national pharma plan offers the prospect of savings that might lower the bill for everyone.

It’s estimated that up to one in five families in Canada struggle to pay for drugs.

The Parliamentary Budget Office was asked to run the numbers by the health committee and concluded a national plan could save 25 per cent off list prices – or $4.2 billion a year – thanks to the leverage offered by bulk-buying drugs.

The PBO based its assumptions on Quebec’s formulary (the list of drugs covered by insurance) …read more

Source:: Nationalpost

      

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