News  Privatization threatens Quebec healthcare

Striving for healthcare efficiency and prescription drug reform over privatization was the message last night at a community discussion hosted by the left-leaning political party Québec solidaire.

Physician and party co-spokesperson Amir Khadir spoke alongside McGill Epidemiology professor Abby Lippman in both English and French, as chairs were continually added to accommodate additions to the already full audience at Coop Maison Verte in NDG.

“We have three million people covered by public care for prescriptions and the government’s paying market prices,” Khadir said. “Think of the leveraging power.”

He was referring to governmental prescription drug coverage for approximately 40 per cent of the province’s population – all those lacking private care.

According to Khadir, other countries, including New Zealand, have successfully used the leveraging power of a single buyer to force drug companies to lower their prices, while Quebec has simply continued to pay the going rate. Québec solidaire adopted such a system – Pharma-Québec – as part of its platform in 2006.

Khadir expanded on this, criticizing the number of drugs covered under Quebec’s medicare system.

“Every day drug companies are coming out with more and more products, but what are they really for? Are they essential for health?”

Khadir recommended Quebec analyze each and every medication covered under the system, and only subsidize those that are deemed necessary for health, instead of pandering to “the private sector lobby that has taken over the industry.” New Zealand covers about 2,500 drugs – approximately half of those paid for by Quebec – saving New Zealand what Khadir says is “thousands” in health care expenditures.

“That money could be going to hire more doctors, pay for more hospital beds, lower waiting times, the list goes on.”

Khadir also questioned the sources of prescriptions, stating brand name and expensive drugs are often the first and only choice.

“Why don’t we look elsewhere? We should be shopping around,” Khadir added, referring to the wide availability of significantly cheaper generic equivalents.

The night took a change of pace when Lippman took stage and spoke of issues affecting women in the healthcare system.

“We must remember that women are the heavier users of the system,” Lippman said, all while reminding listeners of the hardships privatization would create for those impoverished, prone to non-regular work cycles, and more responsible for the caregiving of others.

“We should be thinking about real home care,” Lippman added, stating that a large proportion of women in the workforce are currently caring for senior relatives, a job the system could be aiding.

Attendees were far from silent as Lippman stepped away from the podium, with one woman voicing out against commercialization, and exclaiming “the planet can’t take it anymore!”

People continued to question the speakers, including the impact of the haphazard scheduling of hospital employees on females who must attend to their household responsibilities while balancing work.

Lippman and Khadir condemned the power of the pharmaceutical industry, citing the staggering amounts spent on marketing over research and development, especially when direct advertising of drugs to the consumer is illegal in Canada. Companies can advertise a drug, but not what it does, or can suggest that a cure for an ailment exists and that a doctor could be consulted, but not identify the drug.

Lippman also discussed the ethical tribulations of testing of drugs on “virgin patients” in Africa and Asia – people who have not been exposed to the level of medications North Americans and make prime test subjects.

The discussion ended with a plea against privatization in any means, with Lippman re-emphasizing that “Canada ought to have healthcare that is not just sold to the highest bidder.”

Khadir, later in conversation, agreed.

“We must remember not to manage the economy, but to manage the world.”