Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his caucus were delivered a strong message from Liberal delegates attending the party’s recent national convention in Halifax that a national pharmacare plan must be a major plank in the 2019 election campaign platform.
Out of the top 15 policies voted on by the grass roots, implementing a pharmacare program was priority Number 1. After all the evidenced-based studies and reports of the past few years that have clearly supported some type of universal plan, you would think it would be a “no-brainer” for the governing Liberals to make it a key platform item in next year’s election.
Delegates passed a resolution at the last Liberal convention to have the party implement a national pharmacare plan before 2019. This policy calls for the government to amend the Canada Health Act to add prescription medicines to the definition of covered services. On the eve of the Halifax convention, the House of Commons Health Committee chaired by Cumberland-Colchester MP Bill Casey delivered its final report recommending a single payer universal presciption drug plan.
We know there is a tremendous inequity to our current system with a patchwork of federal, provincial and private drug plans. As well, there are many Canadians who have absolutely no drug coverage including the self-employed and people working for small businesses that can’t afford to provide a drug plan. Unfortunately, too many Canadians face the difficult choice between whether they fill those prescriptions or go without in order to pay for other necessities like food and heat.
As the health committee report states “such a universal approach would ensure that all Canadians have equitable and affordable access to life-saving prescription drugs. In short, it will save money and lives.”
As our MP pointed out in a recent interview with CTV’s Steve Murphy, the country currently has 80 different drug plans at various levels of government that cover seniors, youth, veterans and those on social assistance.
Casey also said the patchwork of rules determining how drugs are bought across the country has led to the same drugs being bought for different prices at different times. The Parliamentary Budget Officer has also issued a comprehensive report pointing to the financial benefits of a universal plan. That report provides estimates of the cost to the federal government for a national pharmacare program based on the list of drugs publicly covered in Quebec.
The office estimates roughly $28.5 billion was spent on prescription drugs in 2015-16, and $24.6 billion of that total would have been eligible under a pharmacare program. That would have represented a savings of 4.2 billion dollars. A University of BC study released in 2015 made a similar argument for a national pharmacare program claiming that it is not only affordable, but should save taxpayers billions of dollars. We are currently paying some of the highest drug costs in the developed world which is just not acceptable. There is no reason why Canadians shouldn’t have access to the medications they need regardless of their financial situation. In turn, it would also ease the pressure on our already overburdened health care system.
Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions said it best "that a national, universal pharmacare plan will be good for patients, good for public health care and good for Canada's economy."
Geoff deGannes is the past chairman of the Tantramar Radio Society. His daily commentaries can be heard on 107.9 CFTA.