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Canada pays more for prescription drugs than comparable countries: study
According to a new study, Canadians are paying far more for primary care prescription drugs than people who live in most other high-income countries with universal healthcare.
The study, which was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal on Monday by a team of Canadian and American researchers, compared the volume and daily cost of primary care prescription drugs in Canada with those in nine other high-income countries: Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, the U.K., France, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland.
All of these countries, except Canada, offer universal coverage for outpatient prescriptions. Their average per-person cost of prescription medication was $122 in 2015. In Canada, it was $158.
At $171, only the Swiss paid more per capita for primary care prescriptions.
"The volume of therapy purchased in Canada was about the same as that in the comparator countries," Dr. Steven Morgan of the University of British Columbia's School of Population and Public Health wrote, along with study co-authors. "However, Canadians spent an estimated $2.3 billion more than they would have in 2015 if these primary care treatments had had the same average cost per day in Canada as in the 9 comparator countries combined."
Researchers based their findings on studying the prices of six types of commonly purchased primary care prescriptions. They also found that drug costs can vary by more than 600 per cent in these 10 countries.
"Average expenditures are lower among single-payer financing systems, which appear to promote lower prices and selection of lower-cost treatment options within therapeutic categories," the researchers wrote.
"We often pay three-to-five times as much for the exact same drug," Dr. Morgan told CTV News Channel on Monday. He called the situation an "old story" in Canada, but one that could be easily addressed if all levels of government purchased drugs under a single national program.
"If you did that, manufacturers would have a lot of incentive to bring their prices down," he said.
He added that other comparable countries are able to buy drugs more cheaply because they buy in bulk under a national plan, which allows them to negotiate for better prices on generic and brand name drugs.
In a related commentary, emergency room doctor Dr. Joel Lexchin, who also teaches at Toronto's York University, argued that universal pharmacare would both reduce drug prices in Canada and ensure that people take the medications they need.
"Canada is not doing well when it comes to ensuring that its population has access to prescription medications," Lexchin wrote. "(W)e can and must get to a better place."
Dr. Lexchin expanded on his position in an interview with CTV News Channel, when he pointed out that the current drug-purchasing system is hardest on what he calls the "working poor." These people, he said, work for minimum wage with no benefits, leaving them with the hard choice of paying everything out-of-pocket or simply not filling their prescriptions at all.
"The people who don't fill their prescriptions tend to be the ones who need it the most," he said. "You're paying the highest costs, you're paying it out of your pocket and you can probably least afford it."