The creation of pharmacare in Canada has the potential to have far-reaching effects on the health-care system. It is about removing financial barriers that contribute to inequities in how Canadians achieve good health. It is an admirable goal and one that should apply to all aspects of care.
The discussion around a national pharmacare program creates the opportunity for us to examine how we access more affordable medicines in general—prescription and non-prescription. In particular, how the use of non-prescription medicines supports the larger category of self-care. Whether it is exercising, brushing teeth, eating well, applying sunscreen, quitting smoking, or treating fevers and headaches, self-care is what every Canadian does to stay healthy.
Similar to the issues pharmacare is meant to resolve, Canadians practicing self-care can also face financial hurdles. For example, many Canadians are using doctor visits and workplace drug plans to avoid out-of-pocket expenses for medicines they could otherwise buy themselves. In a 2015 study, results showed that 26 per cent of Canadians who saw the doctor and received a prescription for a minor ailment said they did so precisely to have it covered by their drug plan. Those Canadians who don’t have drug plans may simply go without.
This is significant. Many non-prescription medicines were once prescription and more are eligible now to make this transition. Health innovations in diagnostics, information management, and clinical research are making it increasingly possible for Canadians to treat themselves at home. As professional medicine becomes more personalized, the most frequently used prescriptions may be driven by innovation and sustainability towards over-the-counter.
Fair and affordable access to these products should not be viewed as optional, but rather a necessary component of the health care system. This highlights potential investments that could be made now to empower greater care at home for Canadians, and support the sustainability of our health-care system when pharmacare becomes a reality.
Canadians prefer to take care of themselves when they can. Recent research found that more than three-quarters of Canadians prefer to manage a number of their own ailments. If just 16 per cent of Canadians who said their symptoms were mild practiced self-care instead of going to the doctor, an additional 500,000 Canadians could have access to a family doctor.
A national self-care strategy that supports Canadian’s interests in caring for themselves will help strike an appropriate balance between self-care and professional care. This strategy could include efforts that address financial barriers and influences while promoting health literacy, innovation and equitable product access. Canadians should not have to see their doctor in order to save the costs of something they can buy themselves. With the progression of pharmacare, the timing is right to address challenges such as these, liberating health professionals to focus on those in most need of care.
Enabling good health, whether at home, or with the help of a professional just makes sense. For governments, this equates to making balanced investments that make our health care system accessible to all, as well as empowering individuals to take great care of themselves.
Karen Proud is president of the Consumer Health Products Canada.
The Hill Times
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