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EDITORIAL: Defining moment

Mary Boyd, front left, chairwoman of the P.E.I. Health Coalition, leads a demonstration supporting a national pharmacare program to the P.E.I. Legislature in this December 2016, Guardian file photo.

(Guardian photo)
Mary Boyd, front left, chairwoman of the P.E.I. Health Coalition, leads a demonstration supporting a national pharmacare program to the P.E.I. Legislature in this December 2016, Guardian file photo. (Guardian photo)

As this program rolls out, it will become the cornerstone of the government’s re-election hopes.

There were a number of interesting elements in Tuesday’s budget – supporting women, science, conservation and the economy - but one particular proposal will have an impact on every Canadian. Pharmacare failed to grab the attention it deserved from media and opposition during the budget frenzy, partly because there were scant details offered. But as this program rolls out, it will become the cornerstone of the government’s re-election hopes.

There won’t be a happier Canadian today than Mary Boyd of Blooming Point who has laboured for years with the P.E.I. Health Coalition in support of pharmacare. Similar provincial and national groups must be ecstatic that 40 years of study, argument and presentations have finally borne fruit.

When the final analysis is written on Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s third budget, pharmacare will be one of the defining moments. Yes, other programs are important, but pharmacare offers hope and much-needed help for millions of Canadians struggling to pay for expensive drugs. The initial plans unveiled Tuesday are baby steps. The government will appoint “a group of advisers to explore options for a national program to cover the cost of prescription drugs.” Ontario health minister Eric Hoskins resigned his legislature seat to head the advisory council. It won’t be cheap – an estimated $19 billion a year according to the parliamentary budget office. But many other industrialized countries have this program in place. Canada is among the last to come to the table.

When an estimated 10 per cent of Canadians can't afford their prescription drugs each year, one wonders why the government isn’t proceeding more aggressively. It’s unacceptable when lower to middle income Canadians have to make grave decisions on buying essential medications, or purchasing food or heating their homes.

It’s a legitimate concern for Canadians who worry about taxes going up if medications are publicly funded. But is it really such a leap to publicly fund essential medications like we publicly fund essential health-care services? Perhaps if lawmakers are forced off their gold-plated medical plans and given the same coverage options as most Canadians, it might speed up the implementation of pharmacare.

We know pharmacare is necessary, just like medicare. And who knows this better than Ms. Boyd. Mr. Hoskins is well-advised to place a phone call to her at his first opportunity. He’ll have his eyes opened.

This key part of our health care should not be based on income. Canadians overwhelming reject the idea that your access to medications should depend on your job. And still we wait.

There seems to be a time frame in play here which suggests that the Liberals plan to make pharmacare a centrepiece of their 2019 election campaign and take away a key talking point from NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh who is firmly behind a national drug plan.

The Liberals should not delay pharmacare or wait as part of an election strategy; but take immediate steps to get the program moving forward.

For some Canadians, it is a matter of life and death.

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