Fair Drug Pricing Better for Nova Scotians, Op-Ed
NOTE: The following is an op-ed piece by Health and Wellness Minister Maureen MacDonald.
As the Minister of Health and Wellness, I often hear from Nova Scotians about how important it is that they are able to afford the drugs they need.
As you may be aware, government is making changes to the way prescription drugs are priced in Nova Scotia through the new Fair Drug Pricing Act.
In Nova Scotia, we pay too much for prescription drugs. In fact, we pay more for generic drugs than many provinces in Canada and most countries in the world. That's not fair to Nova Scotians.
The cost of prescription drugs to taxpayers through the Pharmacare programs is also growing at an astounding rate. Government spending on drugs through Pharmacare has more than doubled in the past eight years and, last year alone, the total cost was $300 million. This cannot continue unchecked.
A recent report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information is further evidence that Nova Scotians are paying too much. Nova Scotia spends $838 per capita on prescribed drugs, second only to Quebec at $882. The Canadian average is $765.
Drug pricing needs to be changed for a number of very important reasons: so prescription drugs are affordable for Nova Scotians; so we, as a province, pay similar prices to those paid elsewhere; and so Pharmacare remains sustainable for the more than 200,000 Nova Scotians who count on it for help with drug costs, as well those who will need it in the future.
Drug pricing is changing not just here in Nova Scotia, but across Canada. In fact, it started in 2006.
In the fall, we gathered input on the best way to get fair drug prices for Nova Scotians who rely on Pharmacare, and taxpayers, while ensuring Nova Scotians continue to have access to pharmacists in their communities.
We met with more than 100 representatives of close to 20 groups, including seniors, pharmacists, pharmacy owners, doctors and others. We received written input from 13 groups and written submissions from members of the public.
That input was invaluable. Based on what we heard, we developed a plan which we believe will work best for our province. It is a balanced plan, designed to get better drug prices for Nova Scotians in a way that is fair to all.
It includes setting a cap on the price of generic drugs, compared with the price of equivalent brand drugs. This will be phased in over a year to give pharmacies time to adjust. The price of generic drugs through Pharmacare will be 45 per cent of the price of equivalent brand drugs on July 1, 40 per cent on Jan. 1, 2012 and, finally, to 35 per cent on July 1, 2012.
We value pharmacists. I know many Nova Scotians count on them for advice. I want to make sure their businesses remain viable as drug pricing in Canada is changing. We are working with the Pharmacy Association of Nova Scotia to have a new tariff agreement in place by July 1, when the first phase of these changes go into effect, that makes sure pharmacists are paid fairly. The agreement covers the cost of dispensing drugs and related services to people enrolled in Pharmacare.
As a government, we support small businesses and recognize they are an important and vibrant part of our economy as well as communities throughout the province.
Nova Scotians will benefit from these changes.
We estimate Nova Scotians in Pharmacare will save about $1.6 million, including about $900,000 in savings for seniors, when the 35 per cent cap on the price of generic drugs is in place for a full year.
More than 200,000 Nova Scotians in Pharmacare will pay less at the pharmacy counter for generic drugs. Fifty per cent of the 100,000 seniors enrolled in Seniors' Pharmacare will spend less each year on generic drugs. The other 50 per cent, those who meet their yearly co-payment maximum of $382, will see the amount they pay spread out further throughout the year.
Because of our work to date, premiums, co-payments and deductibles for the Pharmacare are staying the same this year, which, I am sure, is welcome news to many seniors.
As a government, we are committed to making life better for Nova Scotians. Making prescription drugs more affordable is an important part of this.