What is the best way to control the costs of pharmaceutical drugs?

It appears that Canadian provinces could do a better job controlling generic drug costs. According to a study published by Open Medicine, Canadians are paying much more for generic drugs than people who live in other industrialized countries.

How did it end up this way?

In 2013, Canada’s provinces and territories, with the exception of Quebec, made a deal to pay lower prices for six common generic drugs on the market by buying them together in bulk at 18 percent of the brand name price. The nine provinces claimed the deal would save $100 million.

But the 18 percent price our provinces set was completely arbitrary. Even though Canada did save money, it could have saved a lot more if they adopted the price negotiation techniques used in other countries. Sweden, the United Kingdom, Germany and New Zealand all offer lower generic drug prices than Canada. That’s because they can negotiate with drug companies or put out a call for tender and choose the best offer. Canada can’t do that. We are stuck with the current price.

And the costs can be quite high. For example, citizens of New Zealand pay 87 percent less for the blood pressure drug amlodipine.

High drug prices is one of the big reasons why Canada should implement a national Pharmacare program. Under Pharmacare, prescription drugs would be covered through a publicly-funded system rather than expecting people to pay out of pocket. Canada is the only industrialized nation with universal health insurance but no public coverage of prescription drug costs.



Are city bureaucrats really that bad?

A few days ago I was watching a Toronto mayor’s debate. Candidates Olivia Chow, John Tory and Doug Ford were discussing important issues affecting Canada’s largest city. What I found interesting was the number of attacks on city government and municipal bureaucrats from Doug Ford and John Tory. They criticized the cost of revitalizing Union Station (one of the most important train stations in the country), the city’s role in garbage collection, roadwork, the size and scope of government, and much more.

When you listen to these guys talk, you would think city officials are a bunch of free spending incompetent fools who couldn’t properly manage a project if their life depended on it. But are municipal bureaucrats really that bad? When you take a look at the evidence, you will see that municipal bureaucrats over the past 200 years led important initiatives that improved the quality of life in our cities.

Let’s go back in time to Paris, France in 1850. This metropolis of nearly one million people didn’t have a sewage system. When you take a look at old pictures of Marseilles, you will see large amounts of refuse and excrement in the streets. Back then a private company would collect people’s excrement door-to-door for a fee and dump it into the swamp outside the city walls.

But it didn’t have to be this way, and city officials knew that. Municipal bureaucrats, the people Ford and Tory love to attack, advocated strongly for a modern day sanitation and sewage system that would clean up the city’s streets. They led the charge for clean public water, our sewage system and garbage collection. The city finally began building a sanitation system in the late 19th century but it faced tremendous opposition from the business community, property owners and other wealthy elites. They didn’t want to spend any money constructing water and sanitary piping in their buildings. And this battle lasted for years. They even fought garbage collection! Even though poor sanitation led to cholera outbreaks that killed thousands, the wealthy didn’t want to pay higher taxes for government services that would stop health pandemics.

Now I am not saying Doug Ford and John Tory want to take us back to the times of cholera. But the policies they are advocating may not be the best for our public health. Doug Ford wants to contract out garbage collection throughout the entire city. He wants to reduce public services as much as he can. What’s next? Will conservatives want the city to stop collecting garbage all together? If it did, there would be a lot more room to cut property taxes. But that would mean people would be forced to pay for their own garbage disposal. Some wouldn’t be able to afford this fee and would simply toss their garbage onto the city streets. And not everyone would benefit from a property tax cut. Landlords would likely not pass these savings on to tenants, and tenants would be less likely to afford private garbage disposal than homeowners.

Would you rather pay an extra $1,000 in property tax or would you rather walk the streets filled with garbage, excrement and disease. I hope you chose taxes. You get what you pay for!

On that note, here is a great quote from a comedian named Lewis Black talking about on the benefits of tap water over bottled water. It’s only two minutes and it’s very funny!


Roadmaps Chronicles: SEIU on the road!

After being on the road with Manny and Sharleen last year during the Justice for PSWs campaign, there was talk of another road trip to connect with members in units across the province. I know first-hand the impact of getting to visit the work places, shaking hands with a person and looking them in the eyes versus an era of retweets and “likes”.

I’m thrilled that we’ll be hitting the road this fall to meet with members on their own turf- in their local community!

With Toronto being called a hub of social media in Ontario, it’ll be interesting to see the interactions and how things shift in terms of how we connect with our members a little further away from the “big city”. For example, our members in Thunder Bay usually come to us, or send us submissions to events online. This is the first time in 3 years that anyone in our communications department has ventured out to Thunder Bay to see the members directly. I’m looking forward to being able to build some connections to members who actually read and are engaged with our content online.

Look for me at your local event- I’ll probably be carrying a camera! Tell me what I should check out for the limited time I’m there and I’ll be sure to connect with you personally while I’m there, even give you a shout out on our blog!

I’ve been known to stay inside the hotel and use the gym equipment, but maybe in Thunder Bay I’ll take a jog past the Terry Fox monument or if I’m feeling super lazy, I’ll try and take a train around Centennial Park. In reality I doubt I’ll have much free time to do any of that because we will be visiting members for breakfast, lunch and dinner!

I try my best when I take pictures to take a moment and introduce myself. I’ve got pretty good at remembering faces but names are another story. I could tell you the last time I took your photos, what event you’ve attended and where to find it on our server. Names however tend to escape me almost as soon as they’ve been shared; horrible I know, but I do tend to meet a lot of people. Please forgive me. Usually the names I do remember are the people who hate to have their picture taken (and have told me so on numerous occasions) or people whose photos we’ve used for larger campaigns.

I’m looking forward to seeing as many of you as possible out on the road, with your families, on your turf. Let’s talk, let’s have coffee, let’s make SEIU Healthcare better together!


Ebola: Are we prepared?

If you were to ask someone what they thought of the recent Ebola outbreak, they would have probably said it’s a bad virus affecting Western Africa. They maybe also felt that North Americans didn’t have much to worry about.

But that was until September 30, 2014. That is the day a man in Dallas, Texas tested positive for Ebola. He flew into Dallas on a commercial flight from Liberia on September 20, symptom-free. It was only five days later that he began to feel sick. On September 28 he was admitted to a hospital in Dallas and was diagnosed with Ebola two days later.

There could be more infected cases in North America. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) in the United States is trying to find out all the people the first North American Ebola patient was in contact with ever since he returned. So far, the CDC has identified about 20 people, including several children.

This whole process has to be repeated for each person with the disease. The CDC will have to trace their movements and monitor everyone the Ebola patient has had contact with for three weeks.

On a positive note, the US health officials believe both Nigeria and Senegal may have successfully contained the virus. Both these countries have more money and resources to control the spread of the disease. Liberia and Sierra Leone, on the other hand, are still recovering from civil war that left their countries’ infrastructure in tatters.

A few things can be done to halt the spread of the virus. All our hospitals across North America need to be on full alert. This means all medical staff need to be fully trained on identifying, treating, and responding to any patient who may have this deadly virus.

But preparing within our own borders isn’t enough. It’s only a matter of time before more Ebola cases end up in North America, Europe, or Asia. We need to invest considerable amounts of money, medical equipment, and expertise on the ground in West Africa to make sure we get this disease under control. Liberia and Sierre Leone simply can’t do it on their own. Some of their attempts to control the disease mirror some science fiction horror movies. We need to help them contain and destroy the deadliest Ebola outbreak in our history.