Editorial – Pharmacare plan should go all-in

The federal Liberal party maintains its minority government through a Supply and Confidence agreement with the federal NDP. That agreement set out several key policies that the NDP wants implemented in exchange for their party’s support of the Liberal minority government until June 2025. Two of those key policies deal with building out Canada’s health care system to what it should have been all along: dental care for uninsured Canadians; and laying the groundwork for a national pharmacare plan.

Canada’s new dental care program is beginning to roll out this year and will gradually phase in coverage for uninsured families with a net family income of less than $90,000 by 2025. This will help improve dental health, and lessen the financial burden, for millions of Canadians once fully-implemented.

Work continues between the Liberals and NDP to develop the groundwork for a national pharmacare plan. Under the terms of the Supply and Confidence agreement, legislation for this groundwork was to be tabled by the end of 2023 – a deadline extended to March 1, 2024 as the two sides were stalled in negotiations. Both parties are concerned with party politics. The stakes are higher for the Liberal party because a deal on pharmacare means staving off a potential federal election. However the real threat to all Canadians is that no deal means the health care system remains incomplete.

The NDP have rightly argued that any framework for a national pharmacare program must be single-payer. That is how our medical system operates, with exceptions. Any deal to begin a pharmacare plan must be single-payer and must be comprehensive. To do anything less undermines the spirit of what Canada’s health care system was initially developed to do.

The Parliamentary Budget Office said in an October 2023 report that a single-payer pharmacare program will cost approximately $38.9 billion per year. The PBO also reported that the cost of the program will see significant savings across the country that will offset the cost.

The need for a national comprehensive pharmacare program has never been greater. A 2022 report from Statistics Canada said that over one in every five adults lacked prescription insurance and that nearly one in every six adults did not use their prescriptions citing cost as the reason. Since that report was released, Canada’s economic picture has degraded. Record high inflation, staggering housing prices, and wages that have not kept up mean those numbers have only gotten worse. A national pharmacare plan will mitigate some of the difficult choices many Canadians have to make.

Agreeing not only to a framework for a national pharmacare program, but going all-in on that program immediately should be of the highest interest to both parties. Canadians cannot wait on health, and we have already waited too long for a single-payer pharmacare system.

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