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Wealthier, better-educated Canadians with drug plans clogging doctors’ offices with minor aches and sniffles

Current health system rewards visits to doctor for prescription renewal, penalizes self-care with tax on over-the-counter medicines.

August 18, 2015 (Ottawa, ON) – Having trouble getting in to see your family doc? New survey data released today by Consumer Health Products Canada (CHP Canada) shows that Canadians with drug plans are more likely head to the doctor’s office instead of the drug store, to save a few dollars on their medications. But those without a drug plan are paying out-of-pocket for non-prescription medicinesPLUS HST/GST – and can’t deduct these costs as medical expenses at tax time.

This scenario means fewer Canadians have access to a family doctor, and lower income families pay extra for taxable, over-the-counter (OTC) medications. The solution? A simple exemption for OTC’s from the HST/GST and/or eligibility under the Medical Expense Tax Credit (METC), just like prescription medicines.

“When people manage their colds, headaches and upset stomachs (what we call self-care), they not only take greater control over their own health, but they also contribute to a more sustainable healthcare system,” said Karen Proud, President of Consumer Health Products Canada.

If just 1 out of 7 minor ailment sufferers who currently see a doctor practiced self-care instead, enough physician resources would be freed up to give access to a family doctor to 500,000 Canadians who currently don’t have one.

“As our political leaders debate and discuss pharmacare and healthcare, we want them to consider a simple policy change like an HST/GST exemption or METC eligibility for certain non-prescription medicines, to make our healthcare system more sustainable, and to help the people who need it most,” Ms. Proud added. 

CHP Canada’s research found that higher income Canadians are 22% more likely to see a doctor for a minor ailment than lower income Canadians, and university-educated Canadians are 35% more likely to do so than Canadians with a high school diploma or less. This likely relates to the drug plan coverage that higher income/education Canadians enjoy. Overall, Canadians with drug plan coverage were 66% more likely to see a doctor for a minor ailment than Canadians without such coverage (19.1% vs. 11.5%). Clearly, financial factors influence the type of care that Canadians with minor ailments seek.

“The current tax system for OTC medicines is counter-intuitive,” said Gerry Harrington, Vice President of Policy for Consumer Health Products Canada. “The less education and lower the income Canadians have, the less likely they are to have a drug plan, so the more HST/GST they are paying to treat their family’s minor ailments when they buy non-prescription cough medicine, headache relievers or allergy medicine.  At the same time, taxing all OTCs and excluding them from the METC drives wealthier Canadians with drug plans to visit the doctor for minor ailments, when approved, evidence-based, responsible self-care options are readily available in the aisles of their local pharmacy.”

CHP Canada is committed to working with the Government of Canada to make access to responsible self-care options easier for Canadians.

Last week, CHP Canada presented these policy recommendations to the leaders of Canada’s political parties as they debate and discuss the sustainability of Canada’s healthcare system.  CHP Canada’s tax policy position is available here.  

What is self-care?

We all practice self-care by doing the following things for ourselves and/or our families:

  • Getting a good night’s sleep
  • Performing regular physical activity
  • Not smoking
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Brushing teeth
  • Applying sunscreen
  • Taking a nutritional supplement, if needed
  • Treating minor ailments like allergies, coughs and colds, headaches and heartburn with OTC medications or home remedies, used as directed
  • Treating minor scrapes and bruises
  • Using credible sources of information to help decide when we do need to see a doctor, pharmacist or other health professional

About Consumer Health Products Canada

Consumer Health Products Canada is the industry association that represents the companies that make evidence-based over-the-counter medicines and natural health products. These are the products you can find in medicine cabinets in every Canadian home. From sunscreens and vitamins to pain relievers and allergy medications, people use consumer health products to maintain their health and manage their minor ailments. This is a fundamental part of self-care which is vital to the health of Canadians, the sustainability of our health care system and the strength of the economy.

Follow CHP Canada:

Twitter:@chp_canada       Hashtags: #selfcare, #cdnhealth #pharmacare                            …    

FB: Consumer Health Products Canada


For interviews and more information:

Marie-France MacKinnon


T: (613) 723-0777 ext. 228

C: (613) 725-5805