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McGuinty government to push ahead with drug strategy

[PoliticsWatch April 12, 2006]

OTTAWA  — Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and his Liberal government are expected to go ahead on Thursday with its own pharmaceutical strategy even though federal-provincial talks to create a national pharmacare program are not completed.
  
The decision appears to be a drift away from a proposed National Pharmaceutical Strategy developed at the 2004 first ministers' summit on health care.

Since then, federal, provincial and territorial health ministry officials have been developing the elements of the strategy. 

Officials are expected to report on their progress in June. 

Sources tell PoliticsWatch Ontario will introduce a drug strategy that would favour patients receiving generic versions of drugs to save money.

The Toronto Sun reported Tuesday that the Ontario government's plan would be a "generics first" plan. 

Ontario Health Minister George Smitherman has said there would be no changes to current benefits, but indicated an interest in a "generics first" policy as a cost-savings measure, the Sun reported. 

Federal Health Minister Tony Clement's office returned PoliticsWatch's call Wednesday evening confirming they were aware of the announcement. 

Sources tell PoliticsWatch many groups including patient groups and some municipal governments are not happy the McGuinty government is going ahead with the plan without holding consultations. 

Patient groups are arguing that the plan will force patients to accept generic drugs rather than the medicines they actually prefer. 

The National Pharmaceutical Strategy has also received similar complaints about a lack of consultations. 

Some stakeholders have complained about a general lack of information about the work being conducted by the National Pharmaceutical Strategy Project Task Group and meetings regarding the new strategy that are taking place without their knowledge. 

With pharmaceuticals being the fastest growing component of the health-care system with expenditures in Canada increasing by almost $1 billion annually, the national pharmaceutical strategy will have major implications for health policy.

And any exercise involving changes to drug patents would be a potential political hot potato. 

Earlier this week, McGuinty led an Ontario delegation at an international biotechnology conference in Chicago, where a number of drug companies were in attendance. 

Quebec Premier Jean Charest, Manitoba Premier Gary Doer and a number of provincial cabinet ministers from across the country were also at the same conference. 

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