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

Comments are closed

Just Posted

Langford teens reunited with family after rescue near Chemainus

Friends spent night in missing truck, spotted by RCMP helicopter

West Shore RCMP looking for suspects after $3,000 worth of cosmetics stolen

Suspects allegedly stole high-end beauty products from Langford Shoppers Drug Mart

VicPD investigating ‘anti-Canadian’ graffiti at Fairfield home

Canada Day items on display vandalized with spray paint

Laid-off hotel workers demanding the right to return to work at Victoria protest

Businesses in accommodation and food sector report laying off 80 per cent of workforce

B.C. records 31 new cases, six deaths over three days due to COVID-19

There are 166 active cases in B.C., 16 people in hospital

B.C. homeowners plead for action on condo insurance crisis

Strata property fees growing bigger than mortgage payments

Indigenous man behind complaint of BC Transplant’s alcohol abstinence policy has died

David Dennis, who is Nuu-chah-nulth, argued that six-month sobriety policy is a ‘lethal form of racism’

ICBC to resume road tests in July with priority for rebookings, health-care workers

Tests have been on hold for four months due to COVID-19

Restaurant to be converted into housing for people experiencing homelessness

BC Housing buys popular Campbell River eatery for $985,000 to serve as bridge housing

Urge travellers to follow COVID-19 rules in a ‘gentle way’: B.C.’s top doctor

Cases surging in the U.S. have B.C. officials hoping the border stays shut all summer

96-year-old woman scales B.C. butte with help of family, friends

‘I did as I was told and I enjoyed every minute of it’

Parallel crises: How COVID-19 exacerbated B.C.’s drug overdose emergency

Part 1: Officials say isolation, toxic drug supply, CERB, contributing to crisis

Most Read