Health Minister Jane Philpott has wrapped up two days of meetings with provincial and territorial counterparts in Vancouver, with the ministers deciding to tackle drug prices, community care and innovation as top priorities.
"Today we discussed a plan to work together," said Philpott. "I am committed to helping bring real change to health-care systems."
One specific action from the meetings is the creation of a working group on the high cost of prescription drugs, which today Ottawa agreed to join.
"I'm very excited and gratified," said Dr. Eric Hoskins, Ontario's health minister, about the federal-provincial-territorial working group. It will look at "how to ensure that all Canadians have access to affordable prescription medications," he said.
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Hoskins said as a physician, he dreams of a national pharmacare program in the works by 2017, Canada's 150th birthday.
"Imagine if July 1, while we're cutting the cake ... we could also cut the ribbon on what might be the next steps in a national pharmacare program," said Hoskins. "I think it would be a great gift to this country."
The group will build on the work of the provinces' bulk-buying program, the Pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance, which saves money by negotiating large contracts with pharmaceutical companies.
"Even with that work, prescription drugs are still too expensive in this country," said B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake.
No dollar figure
During the talks, the provinces and territories insisted money must be discussed, pressing the federal government to cover 25 per cent of health-care costs, to offset the financial pressure of helping aging populations.
No dollar figure was set in the Vancouver talks, but in a joint statement the ministers agreed "new resources" are needed, and Ottawa committed to working on a revised long-term funding arrangement.
The ministers also agreed to work on home care, mental health and innovation over the next several months.
No decisions were made around physician-assisted dying, while the federal government is working to craft new legislation on the topic.
"Recognizing that Quebec has its own law, our governments will continue to work toward a consistent approach to physician-assisted dying in Canada," said a joint statement from the ministers.
Going into the meetings, Philpott talked of the need to reform the system and set common priorities.