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FROM THE HILL: MP speaks to Pharmacare Act

Dick Cannings MP
By Dick Cannings MP
March 5th, 2024

Last week Canada took another major step forward truly universal healthcare with the tabling of the NDP’s Pharmacare Act.  When fully implemented this legislation will allow all Canadians to use their health card to obtain their prescription drugs, just as they use it to see a doctor or use hospital facilities.  And it will save Canada as much as $10 billion or more every year through the power of a single payer for prescription drugs and reduced health care costs because Canadians will simply be healthier.

Our present pharmacare system is a patchwork of coverage paid for by federal and provincial governments, businesses and individual Canadians.  There are more than 100 public and tens of thousands of private insurance plans.  That means we have no bargaining power at all with big pharmaceutical companies and, not surprisingly, end up paying the second highest drug costs in the world.  Countries that have single payer models pay much less—New Zealand pays one-tenth of what we pay for some common prescription drugs.

Why is this important?  Well, for one thing, about 20 percent of Canadians simply can’t afford to buy medicines prescribed to them by their doctor because of high costs.  That not only impacts their health directly, but it also clogs up our health care system as more people end up in emergency rooms and hospital wards.  So it adds billions of dollars in health care costs that could have been avoided if people had access to free prescription medications.

The new Pharmacare Act also adds coverage for contraceptives and diabetes medications and devices.  The contraceptive coverage copies that brought in by the BC NDP a month ago.  The diabetes coverage is critically important to the 20 percent of Canadians that suffer from that disease, a number that has doubled in the last 20 years.

Diabetes causes 30 percent of strokes in Canada, 40 percent of heart attacks, 50 percent of kidney failure, and is the leading cause of blindness.  And, most critically, about 7000 Canadians, many of them young Canadians, die every year as a direct result of diabetes. Many of these diabetic complications are caused by poor management of the disease because many Canadians cannot afford the devices and tests that are necessary, or even afford the insulin.

The new Pharmacare Act is a necessary step to implement a universal, public, single-payer pharmacare system in Canada.  Like the universal health care coverage we’ve all enjoyed since Tommy Douglas brought it into effect in Canada over 60 years ago, it will require negotiations with the provinces, since they share responsibility for health care in our country.

This Act is a framework for those negotiations—it sets out the ground rules for a national pharmacare plan in which the federal government will be the single buyer of prescription drugs.  There will obviously be some spirited discussions with provincial governments, as there was with our original health care system, but pharmacare is such an obvious benefit for all Canadians and all provinces and territories, that I’m sure that we will see clear progress on that front. We should see the plan in place with coverage for diabetes and contraceptives by the end of 2024. The big pharmaceutical companies that have been gouging us for too long may not approve, but for the rest of us, a universal, public pharmacare program will keep us all healthier and save us billions in the bargain.

Categories: Op/EdPolitics

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