BC Chamber of Commerce Does Not Support Surrey Board of Trade’s Call for Action on a Universal Pharmacare Program to Help Businesses and Workplaces

This past weekend, the Surrey Board of Trade renewed its call for support on its Pharmacare policy from 125 chambers of commerce/boards of trade at the BC Chamber of Commerce Annual General Meeting (AGM) and Conference, May 23 – 25 in Burnaby. The same policy was approved at the 2016 BC Chamber of Commerce AGM policy session as a priority for the BC Government; however, three years later, delegates said no.

“The Surrey Board of Trade’s perspective is that drug coverage in Canada is provided through an incomplete patchwork of private and public programs that varies across provinces. This fragmented system reduces access to medicines, diminishes drug purchasing power, duplicates administrative costs and isolates pharmaceutical management from the management of medical and hospital care. It is needlessly costing Canadian business billions of dollars every year,” said Anita Huberman, CEO, Surrey Board of Trade.

The Surrey Board of Trade’s specific policy recommendations were that the Provincial and Federal Governments work together to develop a universal Pharmacare program to enable cost savings through bulk purchasing agreements and other cost-sharing strategies.

“The BC Chamber of Commerce indicated a desire to be aligned with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce policy of a ‘fill-in-the-gaps’ model for Pharmacare in Canada. The Surrey Board of Trade has a different perspective”.

“While the Surrey Board of Trade values the government advocacy work of both organizations, they may not always be right and differing perspectives can often lead to healthy debate”.

Prescription drugs are the largest and fastest growing component of extended health benefits in Canada. Today, more than 25% of private drug plan costs are spent on medicines that cost more than $10,000 per patient per year. Business owners should not be responsible for managing access to drugs and the price of such specialized medical care. No comparable country with universal health care requires individual employers to do so.

The burden of Canada’s incomplete and inefficient system of public drug coverage falls heavily on businesses, especially small and medium sized enterprises, who are the backbone of Canada’s economy. With rising costs of medications, many businesses are seeing their bottom lines erode, with some finding it impossible to provide insurance plans for their employees. Small businesses — a cornerstone of our economy — are the least likely to offer drug coverage. Simply put, they can’t afford it, for the same reasons that individuals find it difficult or impossible to get insurance if they have a chronic disease: private insurance companies are not charities. Private insurers must charge groups and individuals premiums that reflect their actuarial risk.

Repeatedly over the past 50 years, national commissions and inquiries have recommended that Canadian Medicare include universal, public coverage of prescription drugs. So far, no government has acted on this, creating profound inequities and inefficiencies in our healthcare system. In this election year, it is time for Canada’s business leaders to call for universal, public Pharmacare. Here’s why.

Businesses care about the health and well-being of the Canadian workforce. Employees that can afford the medicines, as and when prescribed, will be healthier, happier and more productive with less absenteeism. The overall cost to the health care system in turn is also greatly reduced in both the short and longer term.

The problem is that about one in 10 adults has costly, chronic needs for prescriptions to treat such conditions as asthma, diabetes, hypertension, heartburn or arthritis. Smaller firms have difficulty shouldering the risk of employing a worker with such needs or one with a spouse or child with these needs. The situation is worse for entrepreneurs who want to work for themselves but have chronic health needs themselves or in their families.

All this leads to a labour market wherein people with chronic medical needs in their families must choose jobs based on insurance.

The private sector in Canada can use the funding freed up by a more efficient Pharmacare system to make other, important investments in the health of our employees and their families such as vision and dental care, hearing care, physiotherapy, mental health and improved short- and long-term disability coverage. These are all areas where employers and unions could make new investments with savings created through a universal, public Pharmacare program.

The BC Chamber AGM and Conference is held in a different BC community each year. The event is the largest annual business policy-building forum in the province. Every year, member chambers/boards of trade of the BC Chamber of Commerce develop and submit policies for the consideration of their peers. This year, 75 policies were forwarded and voted on at the AGM policy session. The Surrey Board of Trade submitted 15 policies for support, receiving endorsement for all except for universal pharmacare.

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For further details, please contact:

Anita Huberman, CEO
D: 604.634.0342
C: 604.340.3899