Gov't under fire for not releasing generic drugs study
TORONTO - Opposition parties are accusing the Ontario government of hiding more untendered contracts after it refused to release a $750,000 report into cost-cutting for generic drugs, which they say could result in a reduction of drug benefits to seniors and welfare recipients.
"It seems to me that the minister is protesting too much in terms of what may or may not be in that report and the only way to clear the air, the only way to get to the bottom of what is in those recommendations, is for her to table them publicly," said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
The government has confirmed the price tag for the report by McKinsey & Co., but Health Minister Deb Matthews has declined to make it public, saying the gist of its findings can be found on slides posted on the her ministry's website.
Those are based on a July presentation by deputy minister Ron Sapsford, which talks about delivering value for money in the provincial drug system, but makes no reference to McKinsey & Co. or the agency's recommendations.
"We all know that this particular consulting company has been used around the world to make serious recommendations for cuts in health-care systems," said Horwath.
"If the minister has nothing to hide, then she should just release the recommendations of the report."
After millions of dollars were wasted on the eHealth spending scandal, she added, people in the province have a right to know how their money is being spent.
The contract was absent from boxes of Freedom of Information requests released by the government on the same day the auditor general released his scathing report into eHealth. Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak says it just shows "old habits die hard."
"This is another million-dollar untendered contract that the Liberals are keeping locked in the bottom drawer somewhere," said Hudak.
"They need to come clean, table that report and its recommendations so people themselves can decide what they think of it."
Matthews insisted the government wasn't looking at reducing drug benefits for seniors or people on social assistance, saying the contract with McKinsey & Co. was part of a plan to bring down the amount of money Ontario spends on generic drugs.
"We are in the process of making some pretty important policy decisions, and as soon as we are at place where we're going to release that, you'll know," said Matthews.
"It's important that government do its homework before we release the next steps."
The online presentation by Sapsford to a closed-door group this summer "lays out the challenges pretty clearly," Matthews said, adding she wasn't sure why the contract was missed when all other untendered contracts were released to the media.
News of this latest contract comes as government looks to cost cuts amid a $24.7-billion deficit and as it deals with the aftermath of a spending scandal at eHealth Ontario, where millions of dollars went out the door in untendered contracts.
Neither Premier Dalton McGuinty nor Finance Minister Dwight Duncan have said where cost-cutting will come, opting instead to wait until the March budget to provide details.
"It's not just a question of looking at overall spending, it's about looking at the overall range of programs and services, what works, what doesn't," Duncan said Monday.
"I really want to caution people against speculation at this point; there are a lot of options out there."
Matthews wouldn't say whether Duncan had asked her to look for savings in any specific area of her ministry, which makes up 50 per cent of the province's overall budget.
But she said finding ways to pay less for generic drugs is a good example of the kinds of things she's looking at.