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Ontario’s free Rxs for kids: Would it happen here?

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The push to repeal the Affordable Care Act is again under way, with the House this week passing the latest iteration of the G.O.P.’s American Health Care Act in a close vote.

Coverage of essential health benefits and pre-existing conditions are among the key ACA benefits in the crosshairs. Worse, millions of Americans could end up not having any health insurance because they may be faced with coverage options they can’t afford.

While health care benefits are under threat here, look what’s going on north of the border.

As part of its 2017 budget, Ontario is launching the OHIP+ Children and Youth Pharmacare program. Under the initiative, starting Jan. 1, 2018, all children and young adults up to age 24 will be able to get prescription medications free. At the pharmacy, they will just need to show their Ontario health card number and a prescription — coverage will be automatic, with no upfront costs, the province of Ontario said.

“This is a watershed moment for health care in Ontario. As the first Canadian province or territory to introduce universal pharmacare for children and youth, we are making sure that every young person across the province has access to the medications they need to stay healthy, feel better and live full lives,” Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said in a statement. “We are easing parents’ worries, while making life more affordable for them.”

Along with common prescriptions, OHIP+ will provide children and young adults with no-cost access to more than 4,400 drugs reimbursed under the Ontario Drug Benefit Program. That includes medications listed under the Exceptional Access Program, such as drugs to treat cancer and rare diseases.

“The Children and Youth Pharmacare program is the first universal drug program in Canada for youth 24 and under, providing access to prescription drugs to over 4 million young people,” stated Eric Hoskins, Ontario’s minister of health and long-term care. “By eliminating financial barriers to prescribed drugs, it will improve access, lead to healthier lives for our children and youth, and is a major step forward towards universal pharmacare.”

In today’s contentious U.S. dialogue on health care coverage, such comments would be a more-than-welcome breath of fresh are to consumers. Just imagine, the idea of health care made easier and more affordable.

OHIP+ Children and Youth Pharmacare has garnered the support of key pharmacy groups. The Ontario Pharmacists Association noted that the program has no income restrictions, deductibles or co-pays — removing key obstacles for patients.

“As frontline health care providers, pharmacists understand the need for affordable, accessible medications,” commented Sean Simpson, chairman of the Ontario Pharmacists Association. “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 health care system.”

The Neighbourhood Pharmacy Association of Canada said Children and Youth Pharmacare stands as another step toward positioning Ontario’s more than 4,000 pharmacies as “health care hubs” in the community.

“We see the value in the government’s approach on increasing access to affordable medications by covering prescription drugs for children and youth,” according to Justin Bates, CEO of Neighbourhood Pharmacies. “Pharmacy is an important partner in health care, and we are hopeful to continue to collaborate with the Ontario government for a successful launch of OHIP+ and, at same time, explore new opportunities to improve patient care and access to health services by leveraging the highly accessible pharmacies throughout the province.”


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