Updated: Mar 29, 2020
Now that the federal election is mercifully over, the first file Ottawa and the provincial government should begin to address is pharmacare.
While the issue of pharmacare did not get the attention it deserved during the federal election, there are significant commitments that will require discussions between Ottawa and the provincial government.
In short, a pharmacare program will provide more affordable access to medication through a national program – and thus address one part of the affordability challenges faced by many Islanders.
The fact of the matter is this: Many Islanders are living paycheque to paycheque. As a result, too many people are neglecting the benefits of health-preserving medications in favor of other bills.
Take a family of four in which both parents are working full-time and earning modest salaries with no health benefits. In the event of an illness, the need to pay for medications can be difficult. As Canadians, I believe we need to confront this reality, and make sure that everyone has ready access to the medications they need.
And there are sound economic reasons for doing so. First of all, ready access to medications will ensure that fewer Islanders are hospitalized for treatable conditions like diabetes and hypertension.
Second, employer coverage for medications is varied – in terms of quality, coverage and cost.
Third, a national pharmacare program will reduce drug costs – since the sheer weight of shared purchasing between multiple governments and provinces will make specific medications less expensive.
During the federal election, the Liberal Party proposed a $6 billion start to a national pharmacare program. In making that promise, the Liberals acknowledged that a new federal government will have to work with provinces on the program’s introduction.
In contrast, the federal Conservatives said they would simply increase health transfers to provinces – which would do little to guarantee medication access for Canadians.
To my mind, the Liberal commitment represents the better plan. But – and this is an important qualifier – the successful introduction and implementation of pharmacare will require the active support of the provincial government. Additionally the province can play a role in pressuring the federal Liberals to quickly keep its commitment.
For that reason, I would expect that the province is already preparing its plans to participate in the introduction of pharmacare. And given the reality that we re-elected four Liberal Members of Parliament to the House of Commons, I expect those conversations to be very productive.
Now, I do expect that the provinces will worry about the costs associated with pharmacare. And that is entirely reasonable.
But here on Prince Edward Island, we are in a very good fiscal position. In fact, the province’s overall revenue for the current fiscal year is about $156 million higher than originally anticipated. That large financial cushion should allow Prince Edward Island to quickly and effectively develop a full and comprehensive plan to join a pharmacare program.
In my opinion, pharmacare is the next logical step in the development of our medicare system.
And once it is fully underway, health professionals will not have to ask patients what they can afford.
They will be able to provide those patients with what they need.