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Health minister advocates lower drug prices

Alberta’s Health Services received an increase of three per cent in a budget that saw almost no growth.

Alberta’s Health Services received an increase of three per cent in a budget that saw almost no growth. This comes on the heels of a decade of an average of nine-per-cent increases.

As a result of growth in the province and the health budget, Fred Horne, minister of health, told delegates of the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties Conference, which ran March 18 to 20, there are challenges to face to keep up with that growth.

“But we also have some opportunities to do things differently, and do things in a way that delivers on three points that I think about as health minister,” said Horne.

The first is providing patient care experience; Horne wants those who go through the system to receive well-organized care. “Of course particularly in rural and northern Alberta and remote areas across the province.”

Horne’s second point is one elected officials don’t speak of often: better health care outcomes for the province. “What I mean by that is our investment is our health care system results and a better state of health and well-being for our population.”

He added Canada’s generation of children is the first generation in Canada’s history to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.

“It comes despite the fact Canada, particularly Alberta, is home to some of the finest hospitals you’ll find in North America and some of the finest research facilities. But we’re still struggling as a population with our health status.”

Horne’s third point related to value for taxpayers’ money. “I think a lot of us probably have our own views on how we can improve in cost efficiency in the system.”

He says when the province moved to one health region in 2008 it had the opportunity to consolidate many aspects in the process. However, he feels there are still ways to improve efficiency.

Allowing health care officials to operate to the full capacity of their expertise is part of the way the government is improving this efficiency. “You saw this last year when we opened up pharmacists to a new professional services framework, where they can bill for services such as renewing a prescription or developing a care plan.

“So the notion of actually paying people for what they’re trained to do and for what their profession allows them to do is something that we can do that opens up more access to health care services,” said Horne.

Horne is also working to lower the costs of generic drugs. He says, despite best efforts Canada is paying higher than other international prices for generic drugs. This cost decrease will benefit government sponsored programs.

“We can purchase more drugs for less money. But it also benefits our employees across Alberta who run or subscribe to benefit plans for their employees,” Horse added.

The government is also speaking with stakeholders about a pharmacare program for Alberta. This would allow for consolidation of multiple drug programs and ministries.

Another area the government is looking at consolidation regards EMS dispatch services.

At the end of January the Health Quality Council of Alberta delivered a report, making five major recommendations on how the government should move forward with EMS services.

The recommendations, as stated in the Health Quality Council’s report backgrounder are:

The Government of Alberta develop and implement legislation, operational standards and an accountability framework for the Public Safety Answering Point (911) system in the province.

Alberta Health immediately reverse its decision to suspend the consolidation of the EMS dispatch system into Alberta Health Services, and Alberta Health Services proceed with establishing a province-wide, consolidated EMS dispatch system.

Alberta Health Services articulate a vision and plan for the EMS delivery system and incorporate an EMS delivery model that standardizes care across the province recognizing the unique realities and requirements for urban, rural, and remote areas.

Alberta Health and Alberta Health Services collaborate to establish a comprehensive, single source of valid EMS system data that encompasses the EMS dispatch and delivery systems to be used for operational decision-making as well as quality and safety management.

Alberta Health Services specify a quality and safety management approach that is an integral component of the AHS EMS planning and performance documents.

“EMS is health care, and is the frontline assistance for many people,” said Horne.

He says many municipalities are seeing increases in the volume of calls to first responders, as well as wanting more support for training first responders.

By the end of March Horne says health services should have reported to him with a plan on how the recommendations should be implemented.