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When you or I do up a yearly budget, I suspect that the largest budget item on the list is the cost of housing, whether it is in the form of rent or a mortgage.
When our governments here in Atlantic Canada develop their yearly budgets, the most expensive item is inevitably health care with costs rising every year. Because of this, it is vital our governments make sure money spent on health care is given out in a way that maximizes outcomes while minimizing areas of waste. To do this, they are sometimes required to make difficult decisions on which items receive priority in being funded first while other areas deemed less vital receive less or may be cut altogether. When such decisions have to be made at the family level - as is often the case for many who do not have private health care - the cost of prescription drugs is sometimes the item cut in favour of housing and food. It need not be this way and there is now hope that this quandary may soon be a thing of the past.
Recently, the federal Advisory Council on the Implementation of Pharmacare released its final report and the primary recommendation was the federal government bring in a federal single-pay Pharmacare program that would guarantee drug coverage as part of universal health care. It’s an idea that many of us who work with people who face economic and mental health challenges have been advocating for years to have implemented in Canada and all of the parties that want to form our federal government will now have to address the issue.
With an election coming up this autumn, we can expect this issue to be one of the key battlegrounds as the parties vie for our votes and I hope people press all parties for a clear commitment on where they stand on this issue.
The federal Advisory Council on the Implementation of Pharmacare released its final report and the primary recommendation was the federal government bring in a federal single-pay Pharmacare program.
If implemented, such a plan would cost a lot of money upfront and by the time it was fully integrated into our present system, would cost about $15.3 billion each year. While that sounds like a lot of money to spend, we need to remember under our present system, Canadians spend more on drugs than any other country in the developed world except Switzerland and the United States. Statistics show countries that already have such universal Pharmacare programs have been able to leverage this power to bargain with drug companies to buy in bulk and thus drive the price of drugs down. Additional savings from such a program will come from less emergency room visits and less hospitalizations as Canadians who can afford their medication are less likely to get sick, which is estimated to save our health-care system at least $1.2 billion yearly.
From my experience working with people who live with mental health and poverty, I have seen how paying for costly medications is a major barrier to getting out of poverty. In my province, medications are covered by a drug card for those who receive income support and getting "off the system" entails losing this safety net which many can't do, despite the existence of programs to help ease this transition. Most of the entry level jobs that are the first step out of poverty do not include private health-care plans, meaning the person will be faced with paying for their medications or another basic necessity like food. Faced with this choice, many are forced to revert to the safest option which is to go back on the system; a universal Pharmacare program would remove this barrier.
Economic arguments aside, bringing in such a plan is better for our society as a whole. Canada is a great country and people who live here should not need to be making choices between medication, eating or housing. We pride ourselves on having a universal health-care system but without an accessible Pharmacare program, there is a gaping hole in this assertion. The time has come for this generation to fill this hole for the betterment of all Canadians.
Brian Hodder is an LGBTQ2 activist and works in the field of mental health and addictions. He can be reached at email@example.com.