We need action! Universal pharmacare is an urgent matter

05-9-18

Universal pharmacare in Canada has been a major source of discussion lately, and yet no decisive action has been taken by the federal government. Currently in Canada, hospital and physician care is universal, but prescription drug coverage is not.

Although the introduction of OHIP+, a plan that offers free medications to anyone under the age of 25, was a step in the right direction for people in Ontario, the list of medications not covered by the plan is too long, including brand name medications, IVs, and injections. This limitation severely affects youth living with rare diseases who rely on life-saving drugs.

A universal pharmacare program in Canada is critically important. One in ten Canadians cannot afford the prescription drugs, and those who can pay face the highest drug costs among developed nations. People in Canada spent more than $30 billion in 2016 to fill over 600 million prescriptions, according to the Canadian Pharmacists Association. Nearly one million people in Canada each year have to make the choice between paying for medications they desperately need or paying for other necessities like food and heat.

Good health care services are not just a social determinant of health, but a basic human right. No person should have to choose between living healthy and living safely. The main purpose of a universal health care system is to protect the health of citizens, so why is covering prescription drugs for everyone not an immediate priority? For a country that takes enormous pride in our health care system, we ought to pay more attention to fixing our system so that it properly addresses the needs of all instead of some.

When speaking about what a universal pharmacare program would look like, Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau said that the new program would be “fiscally responsible” and designed to fill in gaps. He continued to say, “We need a strategy to deal with the fact not everyone has access, and we need to do it in a way that’s responsible, that deals with the gaps, but doesn’t throw out the system that we currently have.”

What Minister Morneau is proposing is not a universal pharmacare program – it is a partial drug coverage plan that will benefit some people, but not all. In a similar vein to OHIP+, Minister Morneau’s vision for pharmacare is highly limited and merely proposes a band-aid solution to fix high drug costs for low-income families.  Minister Morneau seems to be proposing, ‘why fix what is not broken?’ Except our current drug coverage plan is broken – and ultimately keeps drugs costs too high.

The near-consensus view among health experts is to throw out the system we currently have and implement a truly universal drug plan for everybody. So what more is there to discuss? With a matter as urgent and important as health care, now is not the time for further discussion when the solution is clear. It is time to implement and put into action a universal pharmacare program that benefits all. We cannot let this important issue be a bargaining chip to be used in the 2019 election, when Canadians need universal drug coverage now.

Roshney Kurian is a Placement Student at Canada Without Poverty in the Carleton Bachelor of Social Work program.