Universal Pharmacare: A Federal Election Issue

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October 15, 2019

What is Universal Pharmacare?

Universal Pharmacare is part of a health care system that provides coverage for prescription medication.

Canadians already have universal health care, but there is no coverage for medicine. That means you need to have health benefits that include prescription medication through your job or a personal insurance plan you pay for. Otherwise, you have to pay out-of-pocket for all of your medicine. Some provinces provide full or partial coverage for some people, but the coverage varies and you have to qualify.

The fact is, about one-third of Canadians don’t have employer-funded health coverage. Those who do must still cover some costs from co-payments and deductibles.

The University of British Columbia (UBC) published a study that reported: “About 10% of Canadians report that they cannot afford to take medications as prescribed because of out-of-pocket costs. Such access barriers have been shown to result in worse health outcomes and increased costs elsewhere in the health care system.”

The study found that when someone has to choose between paying for rent or food, and paying for medication, they usually drop the medication.

There are many consequences to these decisions. Our health care system takes the burden of more hospital visits and treatments for patients who forgo their medication. Further, the study found that children, seniors, and low-income earners, are more vulnerable to this dilemma.

Canadians are proud of their public health care system.

Often, the Canadian system is used to draw a big cultural difference between our country and the United States: The Canadian publicly funded accessible health care system for all, versus the U.S. system of paying out-of-pocket or limiting access to services based on a Health Maintenance Organization (HMO). But, the truth is, even the Canadian system leaves many people behind.

Canada’s health care doesn’t have Universal Pharmacare, which is important coverage that a number of other countries with public health care systems already offer.

Universal Pharmacare would save money!

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) estimates that a universal prescription drug system would save $6.1 billion overall per year.

If you’re a Union Member who has participated on a Negotiating Committee, you may be aware of how often employers push against improvements to workers’ health plans because they are very expensive. Plus, many plans have now disallowed certain medications from coverage as well as they continue to try and control costs.

The current system is made of a patchwork of private coverage. As a result, the cost of purchasing medication is higher overall for Canadians because we’re not buying in bulk. A Universal Pharmacare system would give Canada better purchasing power and reduce the costs of medications in many cases.

Plus, if people had better access to the medicine they need, it would actually save the health care system money and free up resources. People who can afford their medicine don’t end up in emergency departments or walk-ins as often. In addition, people who feel better overall, are much more likely to show up to work and participate in their communities in many ways.

Pharmacare and the government

In 2018, the Ontario government introduced limited pharmacare coverage for dependents and children. The Ontario NDP even made full, universal pharmacare a key part of their election platform.

The federal budget in 2018 announced the creation of an Advisory Council. The Council’s task was to determine how to implement a national pharmacare system. That Council delivered its report in June 2019. In the report, the group called for a roll out of a full universal pharmacare program by January 2022, with a full expansion in place by January 2027.

Access to necessary medication shouldn’t depend on whether or not you can afford it.

This is why a universal, single-payer system makes sense. Universal pharmacare would have a meaningful impact on the lives of Canadians; It’s something important to consider when you think about the future you want for your children.

Read more on the topic:

CBC: Advisory council calls for $15B universal, single-payer pharmacare plan

Global News: 9 in 10 Canadians want national pharmacare: Heart & Stroke poll

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