Ontario Budget Contains Plans for Healthcare Spending, But No Specifics for Pharmacy
On April 27, 2017, the Ontario government released its 2017 budget and at the centre of the plan was significant funding for the healthcare sector. While we are very disappointed that pharmacy and pharmacy programs were not singled out in the language and that nothing was offered to pharmacy in terms of expanded services, we are hopeful that given the nature of the projects announced, pharmacy will play a prominent role and our members will benefit from the increased focus on delivering healthcare to Ontarians.
Of particular interest to pharmacists:
- OHIP+ Children and Youth Pharmacare effective January 1, 2018
Under OHIP+, children and youth 24 years of age and under will have access to universal drug coverage under the Ontario Drug Benefit (ODB) Program. However, with OHIP+, there are no income restrictions, no deductibles and no co-payments.
The Ontario Pharmacists Association believes that income should not be a barrier to patients’ ability to access medication therapy, and so we publicly supported this plan and its potential to improve access to medications for young Ontarians. However, we also believe that any pharmacare plan must provide patients with access to a full range of pharmacy services (ideally comparable to those services available in other Canadian jurisdictions) to help them achieve better health, better care and better value. We are disappointed that these services have not been spelled out in the OHIP+ package, and we look forward learning more about this program, the logistics associated with implementation and how it will impact Ontario’s pharmacy professionals.
The Association is concerned that shifting all patients 24 and under from private payors to the public program has the potential to have a significant negative financial impact on pharmacy professionals in this province. We also understand that operationalizing such a program will come with some challenges. We have already reached out to our contacts in government to better understand the design of this program and how they will work to ensure that pharmacy professionals aren’t negatively impacted by any changes in compensation.
- Enhancing Interprofessional Primary Care Teams
The Ontario Pharmacists Association is encouraged by the government’s investment of $15 million to enhance Ontarian’s access to primary care, in particular their commitment to explore a suite of OHIP-funded non-physician specialized health services. The Association is hopeful that Ontario’s pharmacists will be recognized for their expertise in both medication and chronic disease management, and we will continue to advocate for our members’ ability to assess, and if necessary, prescribe for common ailments and health conditions.
We are also encouraged by the planned investment of $145 million over the next three years to recruit and retain healthcare providers, including pharmacists, in interprofessional teams such as Family Health Teams. By building strong care teams, including pharmacists as the medication experts, Ontarians will receive the comprehensive care they need, from the most appropriate healthcare providers.
- Improving Pain Management
The Ontario Pharmacists Association is hopeful that pharmacists, as medication experts, will be able to play a central role within the interprofessional Chronic Pain Management Clinics which will be introduced as a result of this plan. Pharmacists will also need to have access to the tools and resources needed to help patients manage their pain.
With a view toward the prevention of opioid overdoses, and the success of the Ontario Naloxone Program for Pharmacies, OPA is proud of the way that Ontario’s pharmacists have stepped up to counsel on and dispense more than 28,000 take-home naloxone kits. We continue to work with the Ministry of Health to expedite the expansion of the program to include intranasal naloxone for Ontarians at risk of overdose.
- Supporting Smoke Free Ontario
The Ontario Pharmacists Association remains disappointed that the pharmacist-administered smoking cessation program has still not been extended to reach those Ontario smokers who are not beneficiaries under the Ontario Drug Benefit Program, but we are encouraged that the introduction of OHIP+ for children and youth may introduce accessibility for pharmacist counselling on smoking cessation to Ontario’s young smokers. We are actively seeking confirmation of this inclusion for this new population of ODB recipients.
- Expanding Registered Nurses’ Scope of Practice
While the government is moving forward with expansion of the scope of practice of registered nurses to enable independent prescribing of some medications, OPA is disappointed in the absence of similar scope expansion. Our colleagues in other Canadian jurisdictions have had this authority for several years. The Association has been a strong advocate for pharmacist prescribing to introduce more choice in primary care and improve the patient experience, especially in rural and remote communities and after-hours.
Your Board of Directors, the staff at OPA and the team at our government relations agency have already reached out to colleagues at the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and the Ministry of Finance to express our concern with the lack of focus on pharmacy services, and the lack of details around pharmacy’s role in key projects announced in this year’s budget. We will reiterate the value that pharmacy professionals bring to the healthcare system and our role in improving patients’ timely access to care, and work to ensure that pharmacy is at the table as each of these projects is rolled out.
We will provide more information as it becomes available. We welcome your feedback. Please reach out with your comments or concerns on our Facebook page or via Twitter @OntPharmacists.
Chair of the Board and District L Representative