It’s time for universal public pharmacare for everyone.
The government has committed to passing the Canada Pharmacare Act by the end of 2023. We need to ensure the government implements the full recommendation of the Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare, which was headed up by former Ontario health minister Dr. Eric Hoskins.
The Advisory Council’s report published in June 2019 and made it clear that Canada needs a universal, single payer, pharmacare program.
The unfinished business of Medicare
Today, the only place where all Canadians are covered is in the hospital. The federal government covers the cost of prescription drugs for members of the Armed Forces and the RCMP, veterans and Indigenous people.
The provinces and territories all provide different coverage. Most subsidize the cost of medications for vulnerable Canadians like those over 65 and recipients of social assistance and disability benefits. Many also provide catastrophic coverage for those with astronomical medical costs.
Almost 1 in 4 households reported that over the previous 12 months, they or someone in their household did not take their medicines as prescribed, if at all, because of the cost.
By the numbers
Just before the pandemic, when the cost of living was lower, people were already struggling to pay for their prescription medication:
- Almost 1 million Canadians cut back on food or home heating to pay for their medication; and
- Almost 1 million Canadians borrowed money to pay for prescription drugs.
Now, with much higher inflation, half of Canadians are living paycheque to paycheque. More people face impossible choices between paying for their basic needs or their needed prescription drugs to be healthy or to manage their illness.
Private drug coverage is tied to employment. The less you earn at work, the less likely you are to have prescription drug coverage.
It is not right that in 2021, 1 in 5 or almost 8 million Canadians reported not having prescription insurance to cover medication costs.
Women, young workers, racialized people, immigration and seniors are less likely to have the coverage they need.
Even those with drug plans are paying ever-increasing co-payments and deductibles.
Canadians say “YES” to pharmacare
An overwhelming majority – 91 percent – of Canadians believe our public health care system should include a universal prescription drug plan.
Several national health care commissions have recommended the same, along with the Canadian Medical Association, Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, Canadian Doctors for Medicare, Federation of Canadian Municipalities, Canadian Health Coalition, Council of Canadians and the Canadian Labour Congress.
We need the federal government to commit to the implementation of a national, publicly-administered universal prescription drug plan for every Canadian, in every province and territory.
Pharmacare makes economic sense
Canada is the only developed country in the world with a universal health care program that doesn’t include a universal prescription drug plan. Our patchwork prescription drug system is inefficient and expensive. It has left Canadians with wildly varying prescription drug coverage and access. Many are paying different rates for the same medications.
We aren’t benefitting from the current system, but pharmaceutical and private insurance companies are. Pharmaceutical companies can charge higher prices for drugs because they sell to so many buyers. Private insurance companies benefit by charging employers, unions and employees to administer private drug insurance plans.
It’s time for Canada to catch up to our peers. It’s time to complete the unfinished business of our medicare system with a universal prescription drug plan that will save money through bulk purchasing power.
In New Zealand, where a public authority negotiates on behalf of the entire country, a year’s supply of the cholesterol-busting drug Lipitor costs just $15 a year, compared to $811 in Canada.
Pharmacare will save Canada billions of dollars
Two recent reports demonstrate that a universal pharmacare plan will save Canada billions of dollars. The first, by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and Canadian Doctors for Medicare, estimates pharmacare would mean almost $11 billion a year in savings for federal, provincial and territorial governments, the private sector and individual Canadians.
A second, more conservative report released by the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimates savings of $4.2 billion a year for the federal government alone. It used Quebec’s model – the most expensive in Canada – in its calculations, and did not take into account savings for the provinces and territories.
The findings of both of these reports have been echoed in the final report of the Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare, which stated in June 2019, that there will be substantial savings to Canadians with the implementation of a Universal, single-payer pharmacare program.
Universal pharmacare is vital for the LGBTQ2SI community
Many members of LGBTQ2SI communities face homophobia and transphobia in today’s job market, often resulting in the lack of meaningful employment with comprehensive drug benefits.
LGBTQ2SI people can also face worse health outcomes than their straight and cisgender peers. This is compounded by homophobia and transphobia that can become a barrier to proper health care and negatively affect mental health.
Whether it’s HIV prevention treatment (PrEP), gender-affirming hormones, medication to treat anxiety and depression, to support reproductive and sexual health and fertility, to treat cancer, asthma or any other condition, too many people are left paying out of pocket, if they can access their medications at all. People with multiple and intersecting identities face even steeper challenges.
Access to health care, including medication, is a fundamental human right. For members of the LGBTQ2SI community, that means a universal, national pharmacare plan we can be proud of.