North Island-Powell River candidates split over national pharmacare recommendations

Riding opponents react to advisory council’s report

Candidates running in the North Island-Powell River riding are largely split between those who support the introduction of a universal, single-payer national pharmacare system, and those concerned about the cost of such a program.

A government-appointed expert advisory council published a report, June 12, recommending the federal government introduce a $15 billion single-payer pharmacare plan to provide Canadians with universal drug coverage. This would replace the current patchwork system, whereby Canadians are covered through a mix of employer and government drug plans.

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The report noted that Canadians spent $34 billion on medicines last year, and that one million cut spending on food and heating to be able to afford prescription drugs. Three million Canadians skipped on prescriptions altogether, due to costs.

The Liberal Party’s Peter Schwarzhoff noted attempts already made by the federal government to address those problems. These include the creation of the Canadian Drug Agency in the 2019 budget, which allocated funds for a national formulary of drugs Canadians can access.

However, the Liberal candidate stopped short of specifically calling for the introduction of a universal, single-payer system, as per the expert panel’s recommendation.

“Disentangling the web of private and public drug payment systems that currently exist and merging them into a single system will be challenging,” said Schwarzhoff. “We know, too, that the cost of not moving forward with a national pharmacare system would be astronomical and make access to essential medications even more challenging.”

The Conservative Party’s Shelley Downey, meanwhile, said the report’s recommendations did not address the short-term needs of those who lack funds to pay for prescription drugs, and raised concerns about how the government would fund a national program.

“This is even more daunting in light of the deficits that we have had for the past 3.5 years; taxes would have to be raised significantly to implement what the report recommends,” said Downey. “A national formulary for drugs will have its own pitfalls. If the plant producing the formulary drug goes down, then we can expect shortages or branded drug substitutions at higher costs.”

Downey did not, however, specify how a Tory government would address the lack of affordable drug coverage for many Canadians.

On the other hand, NDP incumbent Rachel Blaney noted the report’s conclusion that not introducing universal coverage would ultimately cost ordinary Canadians more.

“The advisory council’s report said that in 2018 drugs cost Canadians $34 billion, and the cost of implementation would only be $15 billion,” said Blaney. “There is no justifiable financial or humanitarian reason not to implement universal pharmacare in Canada. This is only one of many studies over the last 50 years that have recommended a universal, single-payer system. For 50 years this has been a missing piece of our universal health care in Canada.”

After unveiling its 2019 federal election platform, the NDP has promised to introduce mental, dental and hearing coverage in addition to universal pharmacare if it forms the next government.

The Green Party’s Mark de Bruijn also wholeheartedly supported introducing a single-payer system, but said only his party can be trusted to deliver such a program.

“Today’s NDP is much like the other big-tent parties, prone to reneging on promises, and changing policies to angle for votes and power; the preoccupation with power and winning elections is absent in the Green Party,” he said. “My only criticism is the council's suggested implementation time frame. The program is intended to begin showing up in 2020, but full implementation will not occur until 2027.”

Rather than addressing the issue of pharmacare directly, the People’s Party of Canada candidate Peter Marcin told the Peak about his party’s vision for health care more broadly.

“My goal and the PPC's goal is to make the federal government smaller and more efficient,” said Marcin. “Health care is an exclusive provincial jurisdiction.”

Marcin also cited the PPC’s official platform on health care.

“It is up to the provinces to implement reforms in line with the more efficient and less costly mixed universal systems of other developed countries,” the platform reads. “Throwing more federal money at the problem is not the right approach.”

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