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P.E.I. pharmacare advocate says a national program should be free for all

Mary Boyd is vowing to continue to fight for universal pharmacare coverage for all Canadians.
Mary Boyd is vowing to continue to fight for universal pharmacare coverage for all Canadians. - Teresa Wright

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - An Island woman who has been at the forefront of advocating for universal drug coverage says she is “massively disappointed” that a new pharmacare program announced as part of the federal budget may not be free for all Canadians.

Mary Boyd was awarded the Order of Canada last year for her decades of social justice advocacy. She has been working with the Canadian Health Coalition for a number of years, lobbying for national pharmacare coverage and the protection of the public health care system.

She says she was initially thrilled with the announcement in Tuesday’s federal budget that Ottawa would launch a feasibility study on a national pharmacare program that would cover the costs of Canadians’ prescription drugs.

But in a speech to the Economic Club of Canada on Wednesday, Finance Minister Bill Morneau suggested such a program might only cover the drug costs of those without health insurance.

Boyd says this was a blow.

“So many groups have worked so hard on this that they can’t help but feel a sense of betrayal by the minister of finance. We wanted something definite. We wanted promise, we wanted a plan, we wanted it implemented right away and the evidence is there that we not only need it, we can save a lot of money on it. So why procrastinate?”

“So many groups have worked so hard on this that they can’t help but feel a sense of betrayal by the minister of finance. We wanted something definite. We wanted promise, we wanted a plan, we wanted it implemented right away and the evidence is there that we not only need it, we can save a lot of money on it. So why procrastinate?”
-Mary Boyd

The Canadian Health Coalition commissioned an EKOS poll last month which found that 93 per cent of those surveyed said access to a national, publicly funded health care system is very important to them.

Boyd says there have also been independent studies that have shown that a single drug plan covering all Canadians could result in billions of dollars in savings on drug costs due to the ability to negotiate lower prices and end payments to insurance companies.

Morneau said Wednesday the advisory council that has been struck to study this issue will explore a strategy on how to close gaps in drug coverage levels across the country, but said the current system, which includes private health insurance coverage, would not be abandoned entirely.

"We recognize that we need a strategy to deal with the fact that 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,” Morneau told the Economic Club of Canada in Ottawa Wednesday.

Poll: What should the future of pharmacare in Canada look like? 

Boyd sees this as a call to arms for advocates like herself who firmly believe in a universal drug plan for Canada.

“Our hopes were dashed a bit because what (Morneau) announced was not satisfactory in any way. He had an opportunity to take this and produce great results and a lot of hope for Canadians,” she said.

“Now, in the end, with enough pressure and enough work it might turn out to be that. Nobody is saying that it can’t be that, we’re just saying that if that’s his mentality now, we have a lot to do.”

Twitter.com/GuardianTeresa

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