Years ago, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) examined the Conservative record on prescription drug insurance. While campaigning from the Official Opposition, Stephen Harper’s party promised a federal program to assist people burdened by drug costs. But after forming government, Harper’s crew discarded the idea. Conservatives also undermined federal capacity to implement and sustain healthcare services and argued that national social programs undermined provincial rights.
Liberals mirrored the Conservatives. While campaigning, Trudeau’s government promised pharmacare:
“After hearing from many thousands of Canadians, we found a strongly held, shared belief that everyone in Canada should have access to prescription drugs based on their need and not their ability to pay,” reads the results of the study, by the Trudeau-appointed Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare.
“That’s why our council has recommended that Canada implement universal, single-payer public pharmacare.”
That promise went on the shelf with other discarded commitments:
- reduced carbon emissions,
- end to oil and gas subsidies,
- electoral reform,
- balanced budgets,
- international peacekeeper role,
- reformed military,
- home mail delivery for all,
- reduced mobile phone costs,
- reduced internet costs,
- RCMP reform.
Pharmaceutical companies object to government involvement in their industry, except when federal officials provide subsidies and extended patent protections, ensure competition laws are ineffective, and take no actions when prices and supplies are manipulated to aid the industry’s profitability.
Conservatives had lengthened patent protection for drug companies. In return, international pharma companies promised to sink 10% of Canadian annual sales back into R&D in Canada. The drug industry continued to lobby for additional patent protection and while doing so, slashed research spending to a tiny fraction of what they had promised.
Despite the billions of dollars Canadians spend on prescription drugs, domestic manufacturing capacity contracted while Liberal and Conservative parties opened their hands for rewards from drug lobbyists.
Insulin provides an interesting example of the corrupt public and private partnership in pharmaceuticals.
Discovery of the essential medicine happened a century ago at University of Toronto. Canadian and U.S. patents for insulin were awarded to U of T researchers Collip, Best and Banting by January 1923. The co-inventors transferred insulin rights to the university for one dollar.
Connaught Medical Research Laboratories was a non-commercial public health entity established at University of Toronto. It was responsible for insulin and other vital drugs. In 1972, Connaught and its insulin patents were transferred to federally owned Canada Development Corporation. Conservatives privatized CDC in 1986 and Connaught eventually became part of French based Sanofi, a dominant and extremely profitable supplier of insulin. The company had 2020 revenues of C$52 billion and operating profits of C$20 billion.
So what happened to a drug that once sold for pennies per unit? The Canadian Diabetes Association reported that an average type-one patient in this country paid about $1,500 a year to control diabetes. In this case, we are far better off than southern neighbours, but Conservatives are dedicated to Americanizing Canada’s healthcare system so the advantage shown here may disappear.
In 2019, Washington Post reported on Donald Trump’s claim that he made insulin “as cheap as water.” However, an American diabetes patient reported she was paying US$13,400 a year (C$17,000) for the life-saving medicine, a price that had increased 275% in 11 years. Some patients are forced to ration their intake of the drug but that can be a deadly choice.
A few decades ago, people could pay about $20 per month for insulin, said Jeremy Greene, a primary care physician and medical historian at Johns Hopkins University. “Insulin prices have been a travesty of American pharmaceutical policy.”
We all grew up learning the myth that governments in Canada and the USA were “of the people, by the people, for the people.“
In fact, the word ‘people’ must be substituted so the phrase reads, “of the corporations, by the corporations, for the corporations.“