Health Council of Canada Calls for Renewed Action on the Stalled National Pharmaceuticals Strategy

    Governments' "unfilled" promises on health care reform leave Canadians
    unprotected in challenging economic times

    TORONTO, Jan. 30 /CNW/ - In today's tough economy, more Canadians will
need help with the high costs of their prescription medications as they lose
jobs and associated health benefits. In a National Pharmaceuticals Strategy
(NPS) launched in 2004, governments committed to make catastrophic drug
coverage a priority. But Canadians still don't have this coverage or other
important reforms that were promised, says a report released today by the
Health Council of Canada.
    The NPS was a key element of a 2004 health accord which saw a major
injection of new federal money into Canada's healthcare system. In their
report, The National Pharmaceuticals Strategy: A Prescription Unfilled, the
Health Council of Canada examines the problems that the National
Pharmaceuticals Strategy was intended to address and its progress almost five
years later.
    NPS was to address catastrophic drug coverage, as well as several other
issues. The other aspects include addressing patient safety by helping health
professionals provide the most appropriate prescriptions for their patients,
and finding ways to reduce the costs of prescription drugs.
    "There was an unprecedented level of commitment and cooperation among
governments when the strategy first started," said Dr. Alex Gillis, a
councillor with the Health Council of Canada. "But then governments changed,
and progress stalled."
    In September 2008, the provincial and territorial ministers of health
said publicly that they can't move forward on several key elements -
particularly catastrophic drug coverage - unless the federal government is
willing to take leadership and share costs.
    "This impasse needs to be resolved," said Health Council of Canada CEO,
John Abbott. "Although there have been some achievements under the National
Pharmaceuticals Strategy, most of the promised reforms have still not
    The report states that although provinces, territories, and the federal
government have moved ahead with some of their own pharmaceutical reforms, the
early cooperation and collective action of a national effort has been lost.
    The Health Council calls on governments to re-engage in the National
Pharmaceuticals Strategy to fulfill all of their original commitments,

    Implementing catastrophic drug coverage for all Canadians, no matter
where they live. Canadians have been waiting for this program for years and
they are going to need it now even more given the current economy.
    In a 2003 health accord, the federal, provincial, and territorial
governments agreed that "no Canadian should suffer undue financial hardship
for needed drug therapy." A year later, they launched the National
Pharmaceuticals Strategy with the issue of catastrophic drug coverage as a
priority. Yet many Canadians continue to struggle to pay for their medications
or cut corners in ways that can compromise their health. A 2007 survey showed
that 8% of Canadian respondents had not filled a prescription or had skipped a
dose in the past year because of cost.
    "Individual Canadians should not carry the burden of high drug costs on
their own," said Mr. Abbott. "Catastrophic drug coverage is a critical social
safety net, and it is going to be even more important in the current economy."

    Lowering prices on prescription drugs. The prices of medications are
higher in Canada than in many other Western countries. Furthermore, the share
of health care dollars occupied by prescription medications is rising and
spending on pharmaceuticals is also increasing, with costs escalating faster
than the rate of inflation. Bringing down the prices of medications will help
governments to offset the costs of other initiatives, (particularly
catastrophic drug coverage), while also lowering the costs of medications for
insurers and individual Canadians.

    Supporting more appropriate prescribing and e-prescribing. Supporting
improvements in these areas will make a significant difference to patient
safety, and will reduce hospitalization costs resulting from medication error.
In addition to expanding the use of e-prescribing, the strategy had a stated
goal of "influencing the prescribing behaviour of health care professionals so
that drugs are used only when needed, and that the right drug is used for the
right problem." While there is a new drug safety network to track new
medications, and several databases that can help to influence prescribing
behaviour, this component of the NPS has not been a priority. It should be,
says the Health Council: In a 2007 survey, 6% of Canadian adult respondents
said that they had either been given the wrong medication or wrong dose in the
last two years.

    "The point of a national strategy was to level the playing field for all
Canadians, so that everyone would have the same opportunities for safe and
affordable medications," adds Mr. Abbott. "It's time for governments to
re-commit to the National Pharmaceuticals Strategy and finish what they
promised in 2004."
    To read the Health Council of Canada's report A Prescription Unfilled: A
Status Report on the National Pharmaceuticals Strategy and provide your
feedback visit:


    The Health Council of Canada, created by the 2003 First Ministers' Accord
on Health Care Renewal is mandated to monitor and report on the progress of
health care renewal in Canada. Councillors were appointed by the participating
provinces, territories and the Government of Canada. For information on the
Health Council of Canada and to view past reports, visit

For further information:

For further information: or to arrange an interview, please contact:
Pierre Lachaine, Health Council of Canada - Media Relations, Phone (416)
480-7085, Cell (416) 779-4532,; Alison Reed,
Temple Scott Associates for Health Council of Canada, Phone (416) 360-6183,
ext. 227,; Miranda Germani, Temple Scott Associates for Health
Council of Canada, Phone (416) 360-6183, ext. 238,

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