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BC FORUM News - From The Advocate, Winter 2018

 

It’s time for pharmacare. And it must be universal,
covering all Canadians

By Don Davies, MP Vancouver Kingsway

From page 8

IN CANADA, if you cut your finger, you go to a doctor and get treated with stitches. When it’s done, you walk out and never see a bill.

But if you walk into a doctor’s office and get diagnosed with an ailment that requires prescription medication, you’re at the mercy of your ability to pay.

Tommy Douglas, the father of medicare, never intended to create such an incongruous gap in Canadian health care coverage. Prescription drugs and other services were always meant to be integrated into a system of comprehensive public coverage, along with hospitals and physician services.

Nevertheless, despite repeated studies, proposals, and pledges, Canada remains the only major country that offers universal health care without a national drug plan.

This is perplexing from both a health and fiscal perspective.

Evidence has been clear for decades that universal pharmacare would expand coverage and improve outcomes, while reducing costs for Canadians. Estimated savings from universal drug coverage for Canadians is measured in the billions, and every health practitioner knows well the negative health impacts on patients who skip medicine because of cost.

In public life, it’s rare to find such an obvious and effective policy innovation staring us in the face. But successive federal governments have failed to muster the political will to advance this file.

That failure means that 20 percent of Canadians—some 7.5 million people—don’t get the medicine they need, when they need it. One in five Canadians report that either they or a family member neglects to fill prescriptions due to cost. And Canadians pay among the highest prescription drug prices in the industrialized world, second only to the United States.

It’s time we addressed this serious deficiency.

Canada has the second-highest rate of skipped prescriptions due to cost among comparable countries. According to a recent study, one in 12 Canadians aged 55 and older skip prescriptions due to cost.

It also found that those without insurance were twice as likely to skip prescriptions due to cost and low-income Canadians were three times more likely to report financial barriers to accessing essential medications.

Despite the absence of federal leadership on pharmacare, public opinion research has consistently found a strong consensus among Canadians on the need to move toward universal drug coverage.

A survey by the Angus Reid Institute found that more than 90 percent of Canadians support the concept of universal pharmacare.

It’s time their elected representatives got on board.

Canada’s New Democrats are leading the way—as we did on Medicare.

We were the only party to include universal pharmacare in our platform in the last election.

That’s why the very first motion I moved at the standing committee on health was to study how best to establish universal pharmacare for all Canadians.

And that’s why we asked the parliamentary budget officer to take the unprecedented step of preparing a full costing analysis for a single-payer, universal drug plan.

Establishing universal hospital and physician care took leadership.

It’s time for leadership from all levels of government to further Tommy’s dream and ensure that every Canadian has access to the health care they need, when they need it.

 

Don Davies is the NDP’s health critic and Member of Parliament for Vancouver Kingsway.

 

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