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Who has the Cheaper Drugs?

A frequent discussion around the national business community is what does Canada have that Americans want.

The historic answer has been hockey players. Canada also has water, potash, oil and comedians.

Recently it has become clear that Americans want Canadian drugs. A group arrived in London in early July to purchase insulin since the cost is significantly less north of the border. A few weeks later, another bus arrived in Windsor with Bernie Sanders, who really likes Canadian health care.

President Trump also wants more access to all of Canada’s drugs (cannabis excluded). There are concerns here that there may be nothing left for Canadian taxpayers.

In the 2015 federal election, the NDP and Tom Mulcair decided a national universal pharmacare program should be the dominant issue. They supported a plan that would allow Canadians to access prescribed drugs in a manner similar to other publicly funded health care services. Stephen Harper and the Conservatives opposed the proposal, while the Trudeau Liberals were somewhere in the middle.

Following the election, Trudeau did what Premiers and Prime Ministers in Canada generally do when faced with contentious issues – he appointed a panel to study the problem. The 2018 federal budget announced the formation of the Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare – one can clearly guess their mandate based on that title. Appointed to Chair the council was Dr. Eric Hoskins, who until a few days prior to the 2018 federal budget was Ontario Minister of Health under Premier Kathleen Wynne. It appears he sensed the results of the Ontario election a few months in advance and wisely, for his career, bailed out of Queen’s Park.

Hoskins recently released a report and noted that Canada pays the third- highest per capita drug costs among developed countries, trailing only Switzerland and… the United States.

Many Americans and Canadians are going to want to know the exact differences in drug costs. A great time to find out will be the federal election campaign this fall. However, as former Prime Minister Kim Campbell famously noted in 1993, an election campaign is no time to discuss issues.

Another expert report should be on the Prime Minister’s desk within a year of the election regardless of who wins.

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