Private insurance executives and big pharma lobbyists don’t want you to know universal pharmacare would actually be good for business
Canada is getting ready for a debate on universal pharmacare.
The federal NDP has tabled legislation to create a universal pharmacare program and a coalition of 150 health care organizations and civil society groups are calling on Justin Trudeau’s Liberals to put partisanship aside and support the plan.
The coalition, which includes major groups like the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions and the Canadian Labour Congress, is calling on the Liberal government to implement the recommendations of its own Advisory Council that called for Canada to implement universal pharmacare.
Not surprisingly, the only groups who seem to oppose universal pharmacare are the big pharmaceutical and insurance companies, who are paying lobbyists to pressure Liberal MPs into believing it would damage the economy.
Another big business group argues universal pharmacare is “not in the interest of employers or Canadians.”
But the evidence clearly shows a single-payer system would benefit both businesses and workers alike:
Pharmacare would save businesses billions and billions every year
Despite what some big business lobby groups say, the evidence shows businesses would save a good deal of cash under a universal pharmacare system.
The Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare’s (ACINP) report found that the average Canadian employer providing drug coverage would save $750 per year per employee under universal pharmacare.
In fact, the ACINP report noted the current system is a major burden for businesses who cover their employees’ drug-coverage plans: “We were told by employers that private drug benefits for their workers were becoming less and less affordable to them.”
One University of British Columbia researcher estimates a universal pharmacare plan could save Canadian businesses as much as $14 billion annually because such a plan “would eliminate much of the cost of health-care plans that business owners pay to cover employees.”
Pharmacare would allow businesses to re-invest their savings elsewhere
The ACINP report notes that another benefit of a universal pharmacare plan would be that “employers, free from soaring premiums, could pay employees better or reinvest in their businesses.”
In fact, a 2015 survey by the global professional services firm Aon found that 85% of Canadian businesses said they would be willing to spend their pharmacare savings on “other health and wellness programs” for employees.
53% said they would “re-invest in other HR programs” and 31% said it would free up resources to make their company more competitive. Almost one-quarter said they would “return the savings to employees as higher compensation” or “invest in growing the business.”
Pharmacare would create a better climate for small businesses and start-ups
If drug costs are covered under a universal single-payer system, skilled employees would have more incentive to work for small start-up companies that can’t afford to pay for drug-coverage benefits right away instead of flocking to big corporations.
A 2010 report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives noted self-employed workers and employees of small businesses are among the least likely to have no coverage under private plans.
UBC professor Steve Morgan, who sat on the Liberal government’s advisory panel on pharmacare, wrote that under the current system: “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 reason that individuals find it difficult or impossible to get insurance if they have chronic disease: private insurance companies are not charities,” he added.
Pharmacare would help create a happier, healthier workforce
Universal pharmacare would also remove a disincentive for workers to remain in toxic work environments just to keep their drug coverage plans. ACINP noted:
“National pharmacare should also make it easier for employees to change jobs or move from one employer to another because they will no longer be at risk of “job lock”—unable to change jobs because the drug they need to treat their condition is not insured under the drug plans of other potential employers, or because a potential new employer has no health benefits at all.”
ACINP also reported that Canada’s current “patchwork” drug-coverage system leaves Canadians spending $34 billion per year on drugs. That’s forced three million people to forego prescription drugs due to costs. One million reduced spending on food and heating to pay for medicines.
According to the Canadian Health Coalition, a single-payer pharmacare system would relieve that burden and foster a healthier, happier workforce:
“Fair and efficient public drug coverage will also increase our country’s productivity and competitiveness. It will relieve employers of the financial burden of providing coverage and allow them to focus on their business operations. A healthier population would also mean less time away from work.”
The Parliamentary Budget Officer estimated in 2017 that a universal pharmacare plan would save Canadians $4.2 billion in annual prescription costs. On average, ACINP estimates a single-payer system would save Canadian families $350 per year.
So, that’s $350 extra per family likely spent in other areas of the economy instead of boosting the profits of big pharma giants and private insurance companies. As one Chronicle Herald op-ed put it:
“(National pharmacare) also supports small businesses that find it difficult to compete for workers when they can’t afford to offer drug coverage. The people most affected do not have offshore bank accounts to avoid paying taxes, so those extra dollars in people’s pockets will be spent in the local community.”