Categorized | Health & Fitness

The Case for a National Pharmacare Program in Canada

Posted on 26 April 2018 by admin

By Sonia Sidhu, Member of Parliament for Brampton South

In 1921, it was a Canadian who discovered insulin, but a century later, it is Canadians who cannot afford the insulin they need. Before being elected to represent Brampton South, I worked in health care for a long time, and I worked as a diabetes educator for 13 years. As someone who has been engaged with the Canadian healthcare system in the past, I know too well the importance, and lifesaving capabilities, of prescription drugs. Unfortunately, 23% of Canadians reported in a 2015 Angus Reid Survey that someone in their household failed to take their prescription medications as prescribed in the last twelve months, because of the cost. Ten per cent of uninsured Canadians do not fill their drug prescriptions because they cannot afford them. The Liberal Party of Canada is even talking about it on a national policy level. Just last weekend it was rated the number one prioritized resolution at their 2018 National Liberal Convention.

I sit on the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health, and we have recently concluded and presented 2 years’ worth of consultations, witnesses, and written submissions on the topic of a national Pharmacare plan – a single payer system of public insurance coverage for prescription drugs. It is important to me that we make necessary drugs more affordable, and I believe that the solution we found, to expand the Canadian Health Act (CHA) to also require coverage of out of hospital drugs, is the best way to do it. I am very proud of this report, and believe that it is comprehensive, and can provide a permanent solution to many problems in Canada’s current healthcare system. This action would not be unprecedented, given that although the CHA does not currently require provinces and territories to cover drugs provided out-of-hospital, the provinces and territories do provide some degree of public drug coverage, usually targeted to those with the highest ratio of drug costs to income.

Despite the many benefits to Canada’s healthcare system, there are some ways in which we fall behind; drug prices in Canada are amongst the highest in the world. According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), the expected expenditures on all drugs dispensed outside of hospitals in 2017 is $39.8 billion. That means that on average, Canadians spend about $1,086 per year on drugs that they need to live their life to the fullest.

I also Chair the All Party Diabetes Caucus, where we work on supporting Canadians who live with diabetes with concrete action on Parliament Hill. Last year, I went on a national tour and held consultations on healthy eating and diabetes. I heard from Canadians living with diabetes from coast to coast who overwhelmingly expressed the need for more accessible treatments. A national Pharmacare program would provide that support, and our report is the first step for the national framework.

In the past, we have seen incremental and incomplete solutions to the issue of Pharmacare. Currently, 43% of out-of-hospital drug expenses are payed for by public insurance, though 22% is still out of pocket. This spending comes from various places, but includes many targeted programs, such as those for First Nations, Inuit, veterans, and federal inmates, as well as provincial programs such as catastrophic prescription drug coverage, which protects residents from drug expenses that would threaten their financial security. These targeted programs, despite providing needed services, are inefficient, and fail to provide coverage for many who need it, as well as being unable to effectively control drug costs for Canadians.

No Canadian should ever be without the medication they need to ensure the standard of life that we expect from this country. Despite the health care we currently enjoy, too many Canadians have to suffer without the prescription drugs they need simply because they cannot afford them. The Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) estimated that establishing a national Pharmacare program would increase drug consumption by 12.5%. Our recommendations will ensure that Canadians are able to access the health care that they deserve, and that reflects the values of our country.

Sonia Sidhu is the Member of Parliament for Brampton South. She was elected on October 19, 2015 in a wave of hope, inclusivity, and positivity across the country. She sits on the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Health, and also was appointed to sit as a member of the Special Committee on Pay Equity. She has a passion for diabetes awareness and prevention which she champions as the Chair of the All -Party Diabetes Caucus. MP Sidhu is also the General-Secretary of the Canada-India Parliamentary Friendship Group and an executive member of both the Canada-Poland and Canada-Portugal Parliamentary Friendship Groups.  She further sits as a member of the Canada-Europe Parliamentary Association, the Canada-U.S. Inter-Parliamentary Group, and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.


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