Health committee cheers idea of national pharmacare program, but cost an issue

Conservative health critic Marilyn Gladu says she fears costs could be far higher than $19 billion

Publicly funded prescription drugs under a universal pharmacare program would provide better health care to Canadians at a lower cost than the status quo, the House of Commons health committee declared Wednesday after two years of work and some 99 witnesses.

“Canadians can save money and have better health outcomes with a national pharmacare program,” committee chair Bill Casey said in releasing the group’s long-awaited report.

After hearing from health care advocates and expert witnesses, Casey said he was surprised to learn just how many Canadians are simply opting to forego important medications that they need for serious health conditions.

“They know they’re going remain ill and they know they’re not going to get better because they just can’t afford those pharmaceuticals.”

The current patchwork of drug coverage in Canada is just not working, he said. “It’s a very erratic system and as a result we pay more for pharmaceuticals than 26 other OECD countries.”

Wednesday’s report includes 18 recommendations the committee says could form a blueprint of sorts for a new single-payer, publicly funded prescription drug coverage program for all Canadians.

But there was disagreement among the all-party committee about just how much such a program would cost and how it should be implemented.

Conservative health critic Marilyn Gladu says she fears the costs could be far higher than the $19 billion annual estimate put forward in a recent report by the parliamentary budget officer.

It’s also unclear how many Canadians who are currently covered by private drug plans would be willing to give up the coverage they receive in exchange for a publicly funded model, she added.

“I think it’s important to answer the questions that remain; there was some conflicting data within the report,” she said, ”and also to talk to the provinces, because they have jurisdiction in this area.”

Following question period Wednesday, Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor said she had not yet had a chance to review the report, but promised that an advisory group established in February would review the recommendations and build upon this work.

The advisory group, led by former Ontario health minister Eric Hoskins, was announced as part of the federal budget in February to work with provinces and territories and Indigenous groups on the feasibility of a national pharmacare plan.

NDP MPs accused Petitpas Taylor and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of stalling for time.

“We know one in five Canadians can’t afford to pay for their medication,” said NDP finance critic Peter Julian.

“Mr. Trudeau doesn’t have any more excuses not to act… universal single-payer pharmacare is not only cost effective, will not only save Canadians money, it will ensure that every Canadian has access to the medication they need.”

Health care advocacy groups that have long called for a national pharmacare program cheered the committee report, and urged the government to act quickly on its recommendations.

The recommendations include calls for a national drug formulary that would be cost-shared between the federal government and the provinces and territories, with additional support from health transfer payments going to the provinces and territories.

Such work demands careful negotiation and a science-based approach, said Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions.

“You need the how-to steps, what are the steps that Canada and the provinces and territories are going to take,” she said.

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Capital Regional District is considering adding another dollar a year to the parkland acquisition fund fee for homeowners. (Black Press Media file photo)
One dollar or two? Greater Victoria parks acquisition fee hike spurs debate

$2 a year too steep, CRD committee recommends $1 a year increase per household

RCMP are trying to determine why a woman fled the scene of an accident in Sooke. (File - Black Press Media)
Sooke RCMP search for driver who fled crash site

Police want to know why woman left

Vancouver Island-based Wilson’s Transportation has expanded to fill some of the routes left unserviced by Greyhound as of Nov. 1, 2018. (Black Press files)
B.C. bus companies say they need help to survive COVID-19

Like airlines, motor coaches have lost most of their revenue

Patrol officers from VicPD’s Esquimalt division responded to a call about hateful graffiti in Macaulay Park Wednesday evening. (Black Press Media file photo)
Anti-Semitic, hate-based graffiti found in Esquimalt park

Police seek suspects after fresh hate-based graffiti found Wednesday evening

Alyssa Gerwing, executive director of the Sidney Museum and Archives, gets into the Halloween spirit with a lit-up jack-o-lantern. With Treat Street cancelled, the Sidney Business Improvement Area Society has organized a series of other events and activities under the heading of Halloween Spooktacular. (Wolfgang Depner/News Staff)
Sidney serves up ghoulish spills and thrills during Halloween

A virtual Halloween treasure hunt and scary drive-in movies among tricks and treats

A woman wears a face mask and plastic gloves while browsing books as a sticker on the floor indicates a one-way direction of travel between shelves of books at the Vancouver Public Library’s central branch, after it and four other branches reopened with limited services, in Vancouver, on Tuesday, July 14, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
B.C. reports 234 new COVID cases, 1 death of senior who had attended small birthday party

Roughly 5,700 people are isolating due to being exposed to a confirmed case

President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Allentown, Pa. on Oct. 26. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
POLL: How closely are you following the U.S. presidential election?

It may feel like it’s been going on forever but the U.S.… Continue reading

Burnaby RCMP responded to a dine-and-dash suspect who fell through a ceiling in March 2020. (RCMP handout)
VIDEO: Suspected dine-and-dasher falls through ceiling of Burnaby restaurant

A woman believed to be dashing on her restaurant bill fell through the kitchen ceiling

A can of Canada Dry Ginger Ale is shown in Toronto on Thursday Oct. 29, 2020. The maker of Canada Dry Ginger Ale has agreed to pay over $200,000 to settle a class-action lawsuit launched by a B.C. man who alleged he was misled by marketing suggesting the soda had medicinal benefits. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Joseph O’Connal
B.C. man’s lawsuit over marketing of Canada Dry ginger ale settled for $200K

Soda’s maker, Canada Dry Mott’s Inc., denied the allegations and any liability

A deer was spotted in October 2020 in Prince Rupert, B.C., with a bright pink yoga ball stuck in its antlers. (Kayla Vickers/Chronicles Of Hammy The Deer Official Page)
Hammy 2.0? Prince Rupert deer spotted with bright pink yoga ball stuck in antlers

The BC Conservation Officer Service is aware of the deer roaming around the city

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
Kelowna Mountie hit with 2nd lawsuit in 2 months for alleged assault

Const. Julius Prommer is accused of breaking a woman’s knee during while responding to a noise complaint

Hirdeypal Batth, 24, has been charged with sexual assault and forcible confinement in relation to an incident in August 2020. (VPD handout)
Man, 24, charged with sex assault after allegedly posing as Uber driver in Vancouver

Investigators believe there could be more victims outside of the Vancouver area

Pilot Kevin Maher participated in a flyover of a ceremony at the Cobble Hill cenotaph on Oct. 22 in a 1940 North American (Noorduyn) Harvard aircraft. (Robert Barron/Citizen)
Cobble Hill remembers lost military members with ceremony, flyover

Annual event commemorates those who died in non-combat roles

Most Read