National Pharmacare vitally important

Instead of taking a leadership role on Pharmacare, our federal government has let each province and territory set up their own drug plan

By Edward Sawdon

During the past year, I have received correspondence concerning the National Pharmaceutical Strategy and the proposed National Pharmacare Program from Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, St. John’s South-Mount Pearl M.P. Ryan Cleary, federal NDP health critic Libby Davies; Saskatchewan Health Minister Dustin Duncan, federal NDP Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair, Alberta Deputy Health Minister Marcia Nelson, Labrador M.P. Peter Penashue and St. John’s Centre Member of the House of Assembly Gerry Rogers.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives has abandoned the National Pharmacare Plan proposal, and left the Pharmacare issue in the hands of the provinces and territories.

“Primary responsibility for matters related to the administration and delivery of health services, including drug coverage, falls within the purview of the provinces and territories,” said federal Health Minister, Leona Aglukkaq.

Instead of taking a national leadership role on Pharmacare, our federal government has decided to transfer federal tax dollars through the Canada Health Transfer to the provinces and territories, and let each province and territory set up their own public drug plan for their own residents.

Along with 13 distinct and separate provincial/territorial public drug plans, Ottawa helps fund and administers a federal plan through Health Canada for certain groups: Canada’s First Nations & Inuit; Veterans, Canadian Armed Forces personnel, RCMP, and federal government-sponsored refugees. However, the Harper government’s decision to cut back most refugees health benefits, in the Interim Federal Health Program, is both short sighted and inhumane.

Wrote federal NDP Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair: “Like you, New Democrats believe it is unconscionable the Harper government would deny refugees the basic right of health care. The recent concession by the Conservatives to allow one group – government assisted refugees – to be entitled benefits is too little, too late. The large majority of refugees will still go uncovered.”

In the end, I believe the provinces and territories will get stuck with the high hospitalization, treatment and drug costs as the Harper government neglects its international and national obligations of assisting all refugees.

It would make good economic sense to have one National Pharmacare Program, instead of the 14 federal, provincial and territorial public drug plans we currently have in Canada. I have been advocating such a program since 2003.

Since 2003, Newfoundland and Labrador has made some modest improvements in the Newfoundland and Labrador Prescription Drug Program (NLPDP), in the Access Plan, the Assurance Plan, and Select Needs Plan, but some people, who have no drug coverage, end up slipping through the cracks of our provincial social safety net.

According to federal NDP health critic, Libby Davies: “The federal government must work with the provinces to create health-care reforms that ensure that Canadians continue to receive quality health care, and that this standard of care is guaranteed across this country. Canadians deserve equal access to affordable medications.…”

Said MP Ryan Cleary: “Make no mistake, my party and I believe in a national Pharmacare program whereby pharmaceuticals are available to all Canadians, the same as Medicare.”

Edward Sawdon is a Pharmacare advocate.


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