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April 17, 2018

Opinion: Trudeau Liberals at universal pharmacare crossroads in Halifax


By Linda Silas, CFNU President

Published in the Chronicle Herald on April 17, 2018

Liberal party members from across the country are in Halifax this weekend for the party’s final national convention before the next federal election. Observers are watching closely, hoping to gain insight into the policies that will form the Liberal platform in 2019.

The creation of a universal prescription drug plan for Canada is shaping up to be one of them.

This weekend, Liberal delegates have a unique opportunity to send Canadians a clear message about the kind of health care system they believe their party must build for Canada’s future. Indeed, with an abundance of economic and public health evidence in favour of pharmacare and overwhelming public support, it’s no surprise that universal pharmacare is taking centre stage.

A universal, public pharmacare plan has been proposed repeatedly over decades by peer-reviewed research, parliamentary studies, Citizen’s Panels and Royal Commissions. We know it will save a staggering amount of money – between $4 billion and $11 billion per year, depending on the system – while increasing access for the millions of Canadians who don’t fill prescriptions or take medications as prescribed due to cost, or who face unpredictable coverage.

Bulk buying medications for a plan that covers all Canadians will yield substantial efficiencies and savings across the health care sector. As one Canadian health expert once said “the bigger the buyer, the better the bargaining power.”

Following two years of study and over 100 expert testimonies and submissions, further evidence came to light earlier this week with the release of the landmark all-party parliamentary health committee report entitled Pharmacare Now: Prescription Medicine Coverage for all Canadians. The report added to the chorus that has been building for decades and recommended the expansion of our existing medicare system to include prescription drug coverage.

In line with the recommendations in Pharmacare Now, Liberal delegates will vote this weekend on a resolution entitled Implementing Universal Access to Necessary Medicines, calling for the expansion of the Canada Health Act to create a single-payer, universal and evidence-based plan for Canada.

As party members consider their path to the next federal election, it’s important to note that universal pharmacare has the support of the vast majority of Canadians. Year after year, polls and townhalls across the country continue to confirm this support, often upwards of 90%, and demonstrate our shared value of access for all, regardless of income.

Nevertheless, after decades of advocacy, Canada’s nurses know that pharmacare won’t be achieved by the faint of heart. Building an effective system that resolves the current problems of high prices and patchy, unpredictable coverage will require heavy political lifting and complex coordination with provincial and territorial governments. Further, as with any investment, in order to realize the billions in health care savings, Canada’s governments must invest in the initial set-up costs.

Yet, implementing a universal pharmacare plan would be an historic expansion of Canada’s medicare and a meaningful health care legacy for our children and grandchildren. And that’s not an exaggeration, by any stretch. Canada remains the only industrialized country with universal medicare that does not provide universal coverage for prescription medicines. The time for strong leadership is now.

As Canada’s nurses have been saying for years, we have the evidence and public support, so let’s roll up our sleeves and get it done.

The challenges facing the creation of a universal pharmacare plan can be overcome with courageous political leadership and a bold vision for the future.

As Canadians begin to consider their options for 2019, they will be looking for candidates that offer us just that. Liberal delegates, this is your chance.