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Ontario pharmacists say free prescription drugs for kids is the right idea

A new move by the Ontario government is being hailed as progressive by one industry group.

On April 27th, Ontario announced that starting January 1st, 2018, children and youth ages 24 and younger will receive free prescription medication.

“OHIP+: Children and Youth Pharmacare”, is the official name of the new program which is going to be costing the first and only province to do it an estimated $450 million per year. The Ontario Pharmacists Association (OPA) says it completely supports this recent announcement.

“As front line healthcare providers, pharmacists understand the need for affordable, accessible medications,” said Sean Simpson, Chair of the Board at OPA to the Ottawa Citizen.

OHIP+ will provide approximately 4400 different medications free of charge, with a prescription, to those who meet the age guidelines. It bolts onto the already existing Ontario Drug Benefit, which is currently providing services for seniors and those under financial support such as social assistance.

“We’re supportive of a program that increases access to medications for young Ontarians and which ensures these patients have more options for maintaining their medication therapies and for accessing services within the healthcare system,” continued Simpson.

OHIP+ is intended to assist parents who may not have pre-existing coverage or who can just simply not afford their child’s prescriptions.

“Nobody should go to a doctor, get a prescription and then leave that doctor’s office holding that prescription knowing that there’s no way they’re going to fill that,” said Andrea Horwath, New Democrat Party leader in Ontario.

At an earlier date, Horwath suggested that a list of basic medications should be provided to Ontarians of all ages, free of charge no matter your economic stance, age, or sex. She is calling the OHIP+ a “half measure” that still leaves a large portion of Ontario no better off.

While the Ontario program is being hailed as innovative here in Canada, in other parts of the world is it actually routine.

In New Zealand, measures have in place since 1993 to keep the prices of their prescription pills low. The Pharmaceutical Management Agency (PHARMAC) decides which prescription drugs, as well as other things, get subsidized for the citizens of New Zealand as well as hospitals.

“They (New Zealand) have achieved the lowest per-capita spending on universal drugs in the world while providing substantial coverage,” said Steve Morgan, a professor at UBC who specializes in pharmacare to Healthy Debate.

Meanwhile, the U.K’s healthcare is considered to be one of the best in the world, if not the best. All citizens have their prescription drugs paid for through National Health Service, resulting in an average cost per prescription of less than fifteen bucks. And even that price can be cut down by making trimonthly or yearly payments of $53 or $188, accordingly. Still, some medications that are not covered, such as certain expensive cancer drugs.

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