By: Don Mohoruk

With the Liberal government now in power, CAPA and other arthritis patient organizations have launched a campaign to raise awareness of arthritis with Members of Parliament (MP). The strategy is simple. To further the cause of 4.7 million Canadians living with arthritis, members of various patient groups spanned out through out the country creating “arthritis awareness” at meetings with their respective MPs.

In early August, I met with Liberal MP Ron McKinnon at his Port Coquitlam, BC office. McKinnon is the author of a private members’ bill which won the support of all MPs as well as the BC Liberal government. It’s named “The Good Samaritan Law” and it would give immunity from prosecution for simple drug possession to anyone who calls 911 to report an overdose. The proposed law is being studied by the federal Standing Committee on Health. It will hear expert witnesses and consider changes, before the bill is sent back to the House for a vote.

McKinnon was very attentive during the 35-minute meeting. I stressed the growing and costly burden arthritis is having on the Canadian economic and healthcare systems. Quoting from the Arthritis Alliance of Canada (AAC) 2012 “Joint Action on Arthritis Report, I noted that obesity, lost time at work and a deteriorating lifestyle impact many individuals living with arthritis. According to the report, the total economic burden of osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) will jump from $33.2 billion in 2010 to over $68 billion by 2040 (in 2010 dollar terms).

I stressed the fact that arthritis “is not just an old person’s disease” but impacts Canadians of all ages from birth through to old age. To drive the point home, I briefly outlined the arthritis journeys for two CAPA board members and a former member, who in her early 20’s, has been confined to a wheelchair with limited mobility. McKinnon asked about the differences between OA and RA, biologics and biosimilars and why arthritis is not considered a chronic disease at the federal level. Also discussed was the huge economic burden some individuals face without private or public health coverage. In BC, annual cost for some medications such as biologics can cost upwards of $25,000 annually. In 2015, BC’s public health care system spent more than $70 million for biologics, the most expense class of medications in the formulary.

CAPA is one of the 35 member organizations belonging to the AAC. The report outlined several goals including: raising arthritis awareness and the impact it can have on Canadians; strengthening research; improving professional education; discovering the means to prevent arthritis from occurring and improving access and delivery of care in the healthcare system.

I asked McKinnon for advice on how arthritis patient organizations can successfully lobby the federal government for greater support. He said there is little individual Members of Parliament can do. He does support the awareness campaigns now underway. McKinnon said lobbying efforts should focus on the 10-member Standing Committee on Health followed by meetings with the Deputy Minister of Health and eventually the Health Minister herself.

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