High hopes for a universal drug plan were quickly dashed for Sandra Azocar, executive director of Friends of Medicare, as she listened to the federal government announce its latest budget on Feb. 27.
“It was a bit of a betrayal for us, because that’s not where we wanted to be after decades of advocating,” she said, “and studies and more studies that have been done about the benefits of a national pharmacare plan for all.”
The federal government announced that it would be putting together an Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare with former Ontario health minister, Dr. Eric Hoskins, as the chair.
The advisory committee will be consulting with experts, provinces, territories and Indigenous groups and compile a report with recommendations on how to implement a universal drug plan.
The report has an anticipated release date of spring 2019.
St. Albert MP Michael Cooper was also disappointed with the federal government’s plan on pharmacare. In a previous interview with the Gazette, he said prescription coverage has already been studied.
“I take the announcement out of the budget as a nothing announcement. This is a government that always likes to launch a new study,” he said.
Azocar said she was happy to hear Hoskins was spearheading the group. Under his leadership as health minister, the Ontario government enacted a plan that covers more than 4,400 medications for people 25 years old and under.
She said she hoped the government had a universal drug coverage plan already outlined in the budget.
Instead, the government is looking into what she regards as an unnecessary study.
“This truly could’ve been a great moment in Canadian history, it would’ve been the largest expansion of the Canadian medicare system since the advent of the universal medicare insurance in the 1960s,” she said.
Azocar said Alberta’s third-highest cost in the health care budget is on drugs and pharmaceuticals.
In a press release both Friends of Medicare and the Canadian Health Coalition is calling the announcement ‘unfinished business’.
“This is a cruel sleight of hand. Millions of Canadians have been waiting decades for life-saving medications and were ecstatic by the Liberals’ announcement yesterday,” said James Hutt, Interim National Director, Policy and Advocacy for the Canadian Health Coalition, in the release.
The two organizations are alleging that new committee is deciding who to exclude from a drug plan, rather than finding a way to implement a nation-wide drug coverage plan.
Within the budget, the federal government reported that one in 10 Canadians can’t afford the prescription drugs they need.
A recent study published in the online version of the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that nearly one million Canadians spent less money on necessities, such as food and electricity, to afford prescription drugs in 2016.
According to the paper, 730,000 people spent less money on food and another 238,000 spent less on heating their home. It also said that more than 1.6 million Canadians didn’t fill prescriptions, skipped doses or couldn’t take their medication because they couldn’t afford it.
Canada is the only developed country with a universal health care plan but no universal drug coverage plan.
– With files from Jennifer Henderson