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Canadians cut food and heating to afford prescription drugs, report finds

Canada has the second-highest drug prices in the industrialized world.
Canada has the second-highest drug prices in the industrialized world. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Nearly one million Canadians sacrificed food and heating last year in order to afford prescription drugs, according to a new report.

Despite having a universal health care system, Canada remains the only developed country in the world with no universal drug plan. It also has the second-highest drug prices in the industrialized world.

The report by health researchers from four universities across the country – estimated that 968,000 people scaled back their spending last year – including 730,000 who cut back on food and another 238,000 on heating – in order to afford prescribed medication.

“We’ve always had this notion that people were doing this,” said Michael Law, the report’s lead author and associate professor at the University of British Columbia. “I think the scale of it was probably a bit larger than we expected.”

The study, published on Tuesday, also revealed that more than 1.6 million Canadians either skipped doses or were unable to fill prescriptions because of cost constraints. Canada has a population of 36 million.

The problem disproportionately affects younger people, low income residents and uninsured people. Indigenous people reported twice the challenges compared to the rest of the population – and women had more difficulty paying for medications than men.

Researchers expected drugs for chronic illness to be most affected by affordability. Instead, they discovered a broad range of prescriptions go unfilled due to cost concerns – with drugs used to treat depression as the most common.

A recent federal government study determined that a national drug plan would cost the country $16.2bn – $3.3bn less than current annual spending on medication.

Researchers warn that the large number of people unable to access prescription drugs put pressure on other parts of Canada’s health service.

“You squeeze the balloon at one end and it blows up a little bit on the other. Those same individuals – because their health deteriorates – are more likely to end up in health care system,” said Law. “You’ll see more hospital or physician expenditures as a result of that – which of course the public purse pays for.”



This article titled "Canadians cut food and heating to afford prescription drugs, report finds" was written by Leyland Cecco in Toronto, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 14 February 2018 06.13pm

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