Overflow crowd of seniors, community leaders, labour groups slams Liberal plans to cut Pharmacare

News release

British Columbia Health Coalition release

BURNABY — More than 700 seniors, community activists, union members and health care experts joined forces at an overflow public meeting Sunday to challenge the B.C. Liberal government’s plans to cut Pharmacare benefits.

"I didn’t vote for this and I don’t know anyone who did," Carlie Redwood, of the Persons With AIDS Society told the meeting. "I need medication every day just to stay alive. I shouldn’t have to chose between eating and buying the medication I need."

The meeting, organized by the B.C. Health Coalition, occurred on the last day of the Gordon Campbell government’s month-long review of the Pharmacare program. Only a handful of organizations, including the pharmaceutical industry, were invited to submit their views to the government.

Campbell and health minister Colin Hansen have both declared the Pharmacare program fiscally unsustainable and suggested benefits could be reduced through user fees, means testing, eliminating reference-based pricing, delisting drugs or a combination of all four.

In fact, the B.C. Pharmacare system delivers per capita drug costs 20 percent below the national average and 40 percent below Ontario, UBC health policy expert Dr. Bob Evans told the meeting. Study after study has demonstrated that any shift of payment from public Pharmacare to private fees means those who need drugs won’t get them and overall costs will rise, Evans said.

The province’s largest seniors organization had to demand an invitation to submit its views and then was ordered to reply in less than three weeks, said Rudy Lawrence, president of the Council of Senior Citizens’ Organizations. "That’s garbage."

"As an accountant I have a lot of problems with a government that gets into power and cuts taxes, then says, `Gee, we don’t have enough for essential services like health.’"

The Campbell government should concentrate on campaigning for a national Pharmacare program and reducing abuse of the existing system, Lawrence said.

"We’re being told that the one way Pharmacare costs can be reduced is to target seniors, women and single moms who are on income assistance," Caryn Duncan, of the Vancouver Women’s Health Collective, told the meeting. Yet studies have shown that such cuts actually drive up costs and illness. "It does not save lives, it costs lives and money."

Dr. Margaret MacGregor, of the Mid-Main Health Clinic, predicted that hospitalizations for heart failure will increase if access to heart medication is reduced through user fees. "Patients will be more likely to be hospitalized, face institutionalization in nursing homes and more likely to die as a result of chronic conditions that are poorly controlled."

"Premier Gordon Campbell is trying to pull a fast one on British Columbians," said B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair. They want to make key changes to Pharmacare without giving ordinary British Columbians a chance to have their say.

"Nowhere in the New Era document did it say, `we will cut Pharmacare,’" Sinclair said. "We did not vote to cut Pharmacare." "I’ve worked all my life in this province," said a woman from the audience, who is being treated for cancer, Parkinson’s disease and arthritis. "I have a lot of fear about these changes. What assurances do we have these programs will be safe?"

Hundreds of those present at the meeting signed a petition calling on the government to extend the consultation deadline to March 31, 2002; to strengthen the current reference-based drug program and to work with Ottawa for a national Pharmacare program.

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