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Premiers unite on buying medicine

Expect big savings by purchasing in bulk

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Provincial and territorial governments, impatient with Ottawa's reluctance to play a leadership role, are banding together to purchase more drugs in bulk to save money.

On the final day of their annual meeting in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., first ministers also agreed to co-operate in curbing the unnecessary use of medical imaging tests.

Health issues dominated the leaders' third day of meetings, although premiers and territorial leaders also discussed matters such as disaster mitigation, rail safety and bullying.

Provinces and territories are now saving $100 million a year ($4 million in Manitoba) from a deal completed this year with the manufacturers of six common generic drugs.

The governments have also completed negotiations with suppliers on 10 name-brand drugs and initiated discussions with companies on another 17 medications. All together, they expect to save $60 million to $70 million a year on the 27 drugs.

Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger said Friday the provinces intend to continue bargaining jointly with drug companies to lower costs. He said they decided to act after waiting in vain for the federal government to take the lead.

"The provinces have taken the leadership in the absence of federal participation in this kind of initiative, and they're showing they can work together and get meaningful savings for Canadians on the cost of drugs," he said by phone at the conclusion of the three-day meeting.

Provinces and territories will also work jointly to weed out unnecessary, expensive diagnostic tests that could produce annual savings of $220 million across the country, including more than $8 million in Manitoba.

In a communiqu©, the premiers said spending on diagnostic imaging is soaring and now exceeds $2.2 billion in Canada. According to the Canadian Association of Radiologists, 10 to 20 per cent of these tests may be needless.

To make sure Canadians are getting the best value from their health-care dollars, participating provinces, including Manitoba, will adopt a pan-Canadian standard on the use of such tests. To start, they will focus on the use of medical imaging for minor head injuries, lower-back pain and headaches.

Selinger said the provinces will also urge Ottawa to implement a national disaster-mitigation program that is funded on a 50-50 basis. It would be used for initiatives such as flood mitigation. The provinces want to ensure, however, that such a program would not come at the expense of disaster financial assistance or used in place of any new federal infrastructure funding.

On emergency preparedness, the premiers said they'd like to see Ottawa institute a tracking system to monitor trains carrying hazardous materials in light of the Lac-M©gantic rail disaster.

As well, railways should be required to carry liability insurance sufficient to cover the costs for which they're responsible, the leaders said. The Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway's insurance covers only a tiny fraction of the costs of the disaster, which may run as high as $750 million or more.

Selinger said stronger liability insurance coverage would force companies to adopt better safety procedures. Their insurers would insist upon it, he said.

The Manitoba premier said there was also a good discussion among the leaders on anti-bullying measures. "Everybody recognized that as provinces, we're responsible for education systems and we want our schools to be safe places where people are treated with respect and have a good atmosphere for learning, regardless of their background," he said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 27, 2013 A7

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