VICTORIA – The federal government joined Canadian provinces and territories Tuesday in a bulk-buying drug program that aims to lower the cost of prescription medications, a move politicians and health experts say signals a thaw in relations over the national health agenda.
Health Minister Jane Philpott said drug plans administered by the federal government will unite with the provincial and territorial pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance to negotiate lower prices on brand name and generic drugs.
The federal government didn’t join the alliance when it was formed five years ago.
The announcement comes as the country’s health ministers gather in Vancouver this week to discuss issues like chronic diseases, high drug costs and funding formulas.
Public health policy expert Michael Prince said the federal government’s decision to get involved in the bulk-buying plan adds strength to the alliance.
“The federal government is the fifth or sixth of the largest health-care providers in the country,” said the University of Victoria social policy professor. “It’s a major health-care provider and player in its own right and bringing the government of Canada to the table is going to be very helpful.”
Philpott said in a statement that combining the negotiating power of federal, provincial and territorial governments achieves greater savings for all publicly funded drug programs, increases access to drug-treatment options and improves consistency of pricing across Canada.
Federal health plans provide drug benefits to First Nations and Inuit, the RCMP, the Canadian Forces, veterans, federal inmates and refugee protection claimants, totalling $630 million in drug-related spending in 2014.
The pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance has completed more than 89 negotiations on brand-name drugs and price reductions on 14 generic drugs, producing a savings of more than $490 million annually.
British Columbia’s Health Minister Terry Lake said that federal government participation greatly enhances the strength and purchasing power of the alliance.
“That’s what we want,” he said. “The more the merrier. They have a number of drug plans they can bring on board and increase our bargaining power significantly.”