Health System Sustainability Must Ensure Access to New Lifesaving Meds

Today, I am writing from the Rx&D Annual General Meeting in Montréal. I'm getting to catch up with old colleagues and meeting new folks involved in health policy and research, as well as those whose lives have been positively impacted by our medications.

Opening up the luncheon and introducing Globe and Mail columnist Jeffery Simpson, was Sylvain Bédard who was diagnosed with a rare heart condition at the age of 13. He received a heart transplant that saved his life, and with the medications that he continues to take to maintain his health, he has been able to live a full and active life - he works, plays with his five kids and can even climb mountains. You can read (and watch) Sylvain's story here.

Simpson spoke to us on the topic of "Drugs, part of the problem or part of the solution for Canada's Health Care System".

Simpson's talk highlighted some of the challenges facing Canada's health system and its sustainability. Value for money is a key element that he focused on, noting that the money placed into the system 10 years ago only drove costs and spending up.

As a result, the provinces have begun to look for savings to curtail spending. Spurred both by demographic realities and federal government fiscal austerity, spending has begun to level out and decline to more manageable, sustainable levels. And Canada is not alone; the OECD has just released a report today that health care spending is going down in many member countries including the United States.

So the question remains: how to continue to achieve the additional savings required to support an aging population? Simpson identifies innovation as an imperative part of the pathway to achieving long-term sustainability.

And finally: what role for drugs?

Simpson noted that a recent CIHI report shows 16% of total spending on drugs, which is actually down from previous years. Simpson had a number of suggestions to ensure costs within the drug expenditures system remain competitive from a patient perspective. While some of the suggestions may have created some amount of debate within the room, others were met with encouragement and interest, particularly Simpson's general support for better capturing the actual amount of Canadian pharmaceutical R&D.

I really enjoyed the debate and find that this kind of policy discussion - looking for ways to ensure health system sustainability while continuing to encourage innovation and access to medications for patients - is part of a healthy and engaged health community. In particular, solutions that ensure patient access to new lifesaving medications need to be part of this policy mix.