In Canada, if you cut your finger, you go to a doctor and get treated with stitches. When it’s done, you walk out and never see a bill.
But if you walk into a doctor’s office and get diagnosed with an ailment that requires prescription medication, you’re at the mercy of your ability to pay.
Tommy Douglas, the father of medicare, never intended to create such an incongruous gap in Canadian health care coverage. Prescription drugs and other services were always meant to be integrated into a system of comprehensive public coverage, along with hospitals and physician services.
Nevertheless, despite repeated studies, proposals, and pledges, Canada remains the only major country that offers universal health care without a national drug plan.
Marilyn from Burnaby's Story
Evidence has been clear for decades that universal pharmacare would expand coverage and improve outcomes, while reducing costs for Canadians. Estimated savings from universal drug coverage for Canadians is measured in the billions, and every health practitioner knows well the negative health impacts on patients who skip medicine because of cost.
In public life, it’s rare to find such an obvious and effective policy innovation staring us in the face. But successive federal governments have failed to muster the political will to advance this file.
That failure means that 20 percent of Canadians—some 7.5 million people—don’t get the medicine they need, when they need it. One in five Canadians report that either they or a family member neglects to fill prescriptions due to cost. And Canadians pay among the highest prescription drug prices in the industrialized world, second only to the United States.
It’s time we addressed this serious deficiency.
Yet the Liberals want a US-style system based on private insurance that will just deepen inequality – and mean more premiums, co-pays and deductibles coming out of the family budget to pad insurance company profits. This patchwork approach may help increase the profits of big pharmaceutical companies and insurance corporations, but it won’t deliver quality drug coverage for every Canadian.
Pharmacare for All?
It is time for a comprehensive, universal system of Pharmacare. Don Davies and the NDP have a plan for one by 2020.