pharmacare canada

People are calling for universal pharmacare in Canada now more than ever

It's a common misconception among people in the U.S. that Canadians have "free healthcare."

In some ways, we do: Emergency medical services, for instance, are available at no cost to all Canadian residents, regardless of where in the country they live.

Health care services deemed "medically necessary" (as determined by officials in each particular province or territory) must also be covered by public health insurance under the Canada Health Act.

"Canada's publicly funded health care system is dynamic — reforms have been made over the past four decades and will continue in response to changes within medicine and throughout society," reads the federal government's own website.

"The basics, however, remain the same — universal coverage for medically necessary health care services provided on the basis of need, rather than the ability to pay."

A broken arm, for instance, would likely cost nothing to treat in Canada, whereas citizens of the United States would be on the hook for thousands of dollars.

Prescription drugs are another story.

As it stands now, millions of Canadians rely on private insurance to access expensive medications for conditions such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, asthma, allergies, various psychiatric disorders and more.

As many as one in five people living in Canada are struggling to pay for prescriptions, according to a recent study.

Other studies cited by the Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare suggest that an estimated one million people are skimping on food and heating their homes to afford their medications, and that three million don't fill their prescriptions because they can't afford to.

"Medicines are a critical part of health care. They allow millions of Canadians to prevent and fight disease, manage chronic illness, ease pain and breathe better," reads a report from the aforementioned Advisory Council released in June.

"We are the only country in the world with universal health care that does not provide universal coverage for prescription drugs," it continues. "Instead, we rely on a confusing patchwork of more than 100 government-run drug insurance programs and more than 100,000 private drug insurance plans."

Experts have actually been recommending universal pharmacare for Canada since 1964, and yet, citizens without private insurance still pay for most of their medications out of pocket.

A poll commissioned by the Heart & Stroke Foundation and the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions earlier this fall found that nine out of 10 Canadians support the idea of a national pharmacare program — so why don't we have one yet?

It's a question that Canadians are now demanding answers to more than ever in the wake of October's federal election, when Justin Trudeau's victorious Liberal government promised to take the "critical next steps" toward creating a national pharmacare program.

Many were hoping to learn more about how Trudeau and his team are planning to do this via Thursday's throne speech, but were left feeling disappointed in that regard.

"CUPE is disappointed that the Liberal government's top priority won't be immediate help for Canadians who need it most - but a costly tax cut that benefits those that need it least." reads a statement published by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) following Trudeau's 28-minute-long throne speech.

"The speech made only passing reference to enacting pharmacare, as the Liberals promised during the campaign, and also signaled the Liberals have no intention of ending their court challenges against Indigenous children."

CUPE is calling upon the federal government to "invest in making pharmacare a reality for Canadians in 2020," and the union is not alone.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who also ran on a platform promising universal drug coverage during 2019's federal election, asked Trudeau straight up in the House of Commons on Friday to prioritize creating a national pharmacare program.

"Across Canada, people are making difficult choices every day, by cutting their pills in half or going without the life-saving medication that they need," said Singh.

"People deserve leaders who have the guts to stand up to the major pharmaceutical [companies] and to fight for pharmacare," the NDP leader continued.

"What is it going to take for the Prime Minister to keep his word and to deliver pharmacare that covers all Canadians?"

Trudeau, for his part, replied by saying that no Canadian should have to choose between putting food on the table or paying for their essential medications.

"We recognize that now is the time to do more and to move forward towards a national, universal pharmacare," he said, noting that there are issues involving provincial jurisdictions.

"That's why we are going to sit down with the provinces and work with them as we move forward on ensuring that Canadians can afford the medications they need. That is the future of healthcare and it is something we will do."

Lead photo by

Marko Javorac

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