Budget 2017 through the eyes of patients

Contributed by Steve Sampson, VP Health and Life Sciences, Global Public Affairs

Key points from Budget 2017:

  • Major transfers to Provinces remain as negotiated (3% annual increase, plus targeted funds for home care and mental health); additional funding to NIHB of $305m/five years.
  • Additional funds identified in the coming years for Health Canada, PMPRB and CADTH for pharmaceuticals to support “improved access, lower prices, and appropriate prescribing” – but no additional specificity on targets, tools, or associated policy changes.
  • Government-wide innovation focus includes commitment to review all Federal programs; health sciences clearly identified for future attention with an emphasis on business-lead “superclusters.”

Summary & Highlights

Budget 2017 was in many respects a continuity event. It avoided specifics in most areas and restated a number of items which had been previously announced, most notably the various Health Accords reached with individual jurisdictions in late 2016 and early 2017. Overall new spending was modest, and the Government elected not to pursue some of the higher-profile policy changes (e.g. changing the taxation of private group benefits) which would have impacted the entire patient community.

For patients, it is positive that the budget clearly calls out life sciences as one of six leading innovative drivers for future economic growth. While there may be an initial focus elsewhere – clean technology, digital and agri-food – a definite window remains open in the coming months for stakeholders to advance proposals to ensure that Canada remains globally competitive for research, clinical trials, and access to new medicines.

There was some expectation heading into this Budget that the Government would set out savings targets or commit to specific measures to achieve lower drug pricing. There remains an intention to take tangible action in this area but the Budget leaves these issues open and non-specific at this time. This is another example of an engagement window being in place for further discussion on appropriate actions for the Government to take and, critically, the unintended consequences of potential policy changes in this area, including to the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board (PMPRB). There is an opportunity to communicate positions centered on improved patient outcomes and the importance of partnerships to address sustainability/affordability concerns, as opposed to the blunt instrument approach of legislative or regulatory change alone which may have unintended consequences for patients.

The additional healthcare delivery funding allocated to Non-Insured Health Benefits (NIHB). $305m over the next five years which should help ensure that new beneficiaries can benefit from treatments. In addition, Health Canada also views the new funding in the Budget for Canada Health Infoway, the Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement and the Canadian Institutes for Health Information as intended in part to address and better track emerging technologies, including Electronic Medical Records (EMR) which are of interest to patients.

Further Reading:

Full Budget document