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Liberals to create national drug agency as building block of pharmacare plan

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  • OTTAWA — The federal Liberal government is promising a new agency to negotiate prescription drug prices for Canadians to try and drive down costs — a move billed as an “important step” on the path to an eventual national pharmacare plan.

    In a sign of just how expensive pharmacare could be, the federal budget tabled Tuesday is also promising to spend $500 million a year, starting in 2022, to subsidize drugs that treat rare diseases.

    The Liberal government said it intends to work with provinces, territories and other partners to develop the mandate for the national drug agency, with Health Canada to receive $35 million over four years starting in 2019-2020 to create an office to support the plan.

    The budget, the government’s last before this fall’s federal election, also includes plans to create a national formulary — a list of drugs that have been evaluated for both efficacy and cost-effectiveness.

    The measures in the budget alone will not close the gap for Canadians that require prescription drugs they can’t afford, Morneau warned in his House of Commons speech.

    “A publicly funded, universal health care system is a source of pride for Canadians and a source of strength for our country. It is a legacy that we are building on with this budget.”

    A central question remains: how the government plans to pay for it.

    A universal pharmacare plan does not appear affordable for Canada right now, said Rebekah Young, the director of fiscal and provincial economics for Scotiabank. Adding such a plan to the government’s books without major tax hikes would require stronger growth than Canada sees even in the best of times, she warned.

    Provinces do not have a lot of capacity to take on substantial new costs, Young said, noting the parliamentary budget office has estimated the cost of a pharmacare plan at about $20 billion a year.

    “The big question then becomes who is going to pay and how much?” she said. “That will definitely be a key feature of the summer debate when we head into the election.”

    The federal New Democrats have promised that if elected, they would follow through on a universal pharmacare plan to respond to dramatic increases in prescription drug costs. Indeed, Tuesday’s budget lacks a sense of urgency on the matter, said NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.

    “Canadians were counting on this Liberal government to meet their basic needs, and sadly, they were let down,” he said in a statement. “We will have the courage to make different choices.”

    Canadians spent $33.7 billion on medication in 2018, a staggering increase over 1985, when they spent just $2.6 billion on prescription drugs. People take more drugs to manage more conditions than they used to — living longer, and better, but at considerable expense.

    Canada’s current patchwork of drug coverage, which comprises more than 100 public programs and 100,000 private insurance plans, is not well equipped to handle the increasingly expensive drugs now coming to market, the government said in its budget document.

    “Absorbing these rising costs is difficult for individual Canadians and their families — and poses challenges to the long-term sustainability of government- and employer-sponsored drug plans.”

    The plan in Tuesday’s budget follows interim findings issued by a federal expert panel led by former Ontario health minister Eric Hoskins on the “building blocks”of pharmacare, including an agency to oversee a national drug plan.

    Drug spending in Canada is expected to surpass $50 billion by 2028, the report found.

    Dr. Gigi Osler, president of the Canadian Medical Association, said Tuesday she was glad to see some details on the government’s pharmacare vision.

    “I think it is the first step towards making it (pharmacare) a reality,” she said. “Our position is that all Canadians should have access to medically necessary drugs regardless of their ability to pay.

    Hoskins’ advisory council is set to issue a final report on the issue of access to drug coverage this spring, with the findings to be tabled in the House of Commons.

    “We look forward to receiving the advisory council’s final report later this spring as we move toward national pharmacare for Canada,” Morneau said.

    —Follow @kkirkup on Twitter

    Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press


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    Ontario court upholds stay of legal proceedings against 3 tobacco companies

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  • TORONTO — An Ontario court has upheld an order that suspended legal proceedings against three major tobacco companies, rejecting arguments from lawyers representing Quebec smokers.

    Ontario Superior Court Justice Thomas McEwen issued his decision Wednesday but did not lay out his reasons, saying those would be released at a later date.

    The companies — JTI-Macdonald Corp., Rothmans, Benson & Hedges and Imperial Tobacco Canada Ltd. — were granted the stay last month as part of the creditor protection process.

    They obtained the protection shortly after Quebec’s highest court upheld a landmark decision that ordered them to pay more than $15 billion to smokers in two class-action lawsuits.

    The companies have said they had no choice but to seek the stay so they could continue to operate as they try to negotiate a global settlement with all those who have claims against them, including the class-action members and several provincial governments.

    But lawyers representing the class members argued the stay in their case should be revoked if the tobacco companies plan to appeal the Quebec ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada.

    At a hearing earlier this month, they said the companies cannot negotiate a settlement in good faith while also challenging the findings of the court.

    The lawyers said if the companies plan to seek leave to appeal, the matter should be sent back to the Quebec court so it halt the implementation of its ruling until the appeal process is complete.

    In his decision, McEwen said the stay order would require parties to seek the court’s permission before launching new proceedings involving the companies, including any applications for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court.

    The judge had previously extended the order to June 28, with a hearing to be held a few days earlier.

    The Quebec Council on Tobacco and Health, which was behind the class-action suits, said it would hold off commenting on the ruling until the judge’s reasons were released. 

    Lawyers representing several provincial governments had opposed the Quebec lawyers’ application, saying one group of claimants should not be prioritized over others.

    Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press


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    Central Alberta family looking for someone to be their Easter Miracle

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  • This post has been submitted by the mother of a young Central Alberta father.  He moved to Calgary years ago to be closer to medical care.   His wife grew up in Sylvan Lake and Lacombe.  Together they’re raising 2 children and unfortunately their future is uncertain.  

    From Julie. 

    You may or may not have seen a desperate plea from a Central Alberta family trying to save a loved one’s life.  This is the kind of situation that requires a really large number of people to help out.  You never know who’s going to step forward and become someone’s hero.  The key is, they have to know about the situation before they can act on it.  So.. here’s a bit of information about this

    Alex’s Journey

    Having a baby is supposed to be a wonderful time in your life. Alex was born looking healthy; however, it all went wrong for him at 22 months of age.

    After being rushed by his Father and I by car to our nearby city hospital, Alex was hospitalized for 5 days with a 105 degree fever, which nothing would bring down. Alex was in so much pain, screaming a blood curdling sound that made you think someone was murdering this poor baby slowly.

    Once at hospital he was whisked away to try to identify the problem. They told us he was a mess inside and needed to be airlifted to Sick Children’s Hospital. Once there it became a series of surgeries and a lengthy hospital stay. His kidneys were being affected by a blockage he had developed.

    By age four he lost one kidney and again needed several hospital visits and surgeries to help save his other kidney. The doctors explained that Alex has Chronic Renal Failure and would eventually need a kidney transplant. At age 8 we almost lost him again due to a potassium overload in his remaining kidney that gradually slowed his heart dangerously. We made another trip to Sick Children’s Hospital to get his levels back down before his heart stopped.

    Through all these hardships Alex always remained a tough little guy. Now as a 29-year-old with a loving wife and 2 little ones, the time has come for our son and he is in need of a kidney.

    My name is Julie, I am his mother and I have said from the beginning of this journey that I will give my kidney. That being said, it would be wise to have more donors that are willing as well to help him have a greater chance of success. His older brother has also volunteered, so please help us give Alex and his family a happy, healthy life.

    Julie (mom)

    If you have Blood Type O and this something you could do, our family would be so grateful to have the chance to keep him in our lives and give him the opportunity to watch his children grow up. Anyone can be tested to see if they are a match. You will need Alex’s full name so please visit the Facebook Group we have set up and reach out to our admin/s. https://www.facebook.com/groups/708888052863495/

    To Get Tested: 403 344 4635


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