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Drugs flowing by April: Feds pushing to accelerate pharmacare plan launch

Health minister asks Senate to speed up process so plan can be launched by spring
Health Minister Mark Holland speaks in the foyer of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Monday, June 3, 2024. Holland says he hopes to see Canadians have access to birth control and diabetes medication through the federal pharmacare program by April 1 next year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Spencer Colby

The federal health minister has asked the Senate to move as quickly as possible to pass the government’s pharmacare legislation so that Canadians can start accessing medications by next spring, he told reporters Wednesday.

A pharmacare bill drafted by the Liberals and the NDP made its way through the House of Commons in June, but still needs to be studied by the Senate.

The idea is to make birth control and diabetes medication available to anyone with a prescription and a health card as part of a universal, single-payer program.

“My objective is to see every province, every territory by April 1 of next year see these drugs flowing. That’s my goal,” Holland said.

“So I’m saying to the Senate: I appreciate their process, I understand that they need a rigorous process, but I’m asking them to be as expeditious as possible.”

Pharmacare is expected to be highlighted in both the Liberal and NDP campaigns for the next election, which is scheduled for fall 2025.

Holland can only begin formal negotiations with provinces and territories to administer the program when the bill receives royal assent, but said he’s not waiting to start talking to his provincial and territorial counterparts about what those deals could look like.

“Then, I want to see these drugs flow immediately,” Holland said.

Provinces like British Columbia and Prince Edward Island, which already cover many of the medications that would be offered, have expressed enthusiasm about Ottawa’s proposed program.

But Alberta and Quebec have both expressed a desire to opt out of the federal drug plan and ask for equivalent funding instead.

The Liberals budgeted $1.5 billion for the program over five years.

The bill senators are set to study also sets out the principals that would guide a potential future full-fledged, universal, single-payer pharmacare program.

It sets a one-year deadline to create a national list of essential medicines and initiate talks with provinces about expanding drugs provided under the pharmacare program.

There is also a one-year deadline for the Canadian Drug Agency to develop a strategy to purchase medicines in bulk to lower the cost of drugs.

Senators have already seen the bill through second reading, but still has to study it at committee. The Senate is still scheduled to sit for another week before rising for the summer, but the committee has not yet scheduled a meeting.

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