By Kelly Johnson
President, Confederation of Canadian Unions
It may surprise some Canadians that our country remains the only one on the planet with a universal health care system that also doesn’t include prescription medication.
You heard me correctly. Every single country throughout the industrialized world – except the United States – has some form of universal, public drug program that provides relatively affordable prescription medicines to all of its citizens.
As far back as 1964, the Royal Commission on Health Services recommended that Canada implement a universal, public pharmacare program following the introduction of universal coverage of medical care, which finally took place in two years later 1966.
Pharmacare was also a central feature of the original vision of Tommy Douglas, when he began creating universal health programs as Premier of Saskatchewan in the late 1940s.
The reality is that Canadians want it. According to a recent Angus Reid national survey, 91% of Canadians agree with the concept of a universal Pharmacare program, and 81% believe this should be a priority issue.
Canadians spend over $30 billion to fill more than 600 million prescriptions each year. That’s more than four times what they spent on prescriptions just two decades ago. Drug prices continue to skyrocket for Canadians and more people have to choose between getting the medications they need and paying for necessities, like food or rent.
Currently, 2 million Canadians incur over $1,000 a year in out-of-pocket expenses for prescription drugs, and one in five Canadian families can’t even afford to fill their prescriptions because of cost.
With a national pharmacare plan, millions of Canadians would no longer have to endure ongoing financial crisis owing to their health needs. They will no longer have to worry about paying for prescription medicines, rent or food.
In fact, pharmacare would save money, because far too many Canadians aren’t taking their prescribed medications due to increasing prices. This causes many to later develop illnesses and diseases which place financial burdens on other services within the Canadian health care system that cost far more than those medications would have in the first place.
Canada’s parliamentary budget officer stated in 2017 that a national pharmacare program would save over $4.2 billion every year, not only for Canadian workers, but for business owners as well who will no longer have to pay ever-increasing prescription coverage rates for employees.
But most importantly, pharmacare would also save lives.
Prescription drugs are among the most important components of modern health care. When prescribed and used appropriately, they can prevent and cure disease, and extend and improve the quality of life.
It’s interesting to listen to opponents of pharmacare state that it would be too expensive, or that Canadians don’t really care, or that it’s “too radical,” when all of these assumptions have been proven demonstrably false time and time again.
As for unionized workers who may already enjoy prescription drug coverage through their collective agreements, having a national, public pharmacare program would put upward bargaining pressure on those plans and make them even stronger and more comprehensive than ever before.
Canadians have been waiting long enough for affordable prescription drugs. It’s time for action. That’s why the Confederation of Canadian Unions has created an online petition calling for the creation of a universal pharmacare program, which has already been signed by almost 7,000 people, and the number is climbing. Please go to our website and sign the petition. And please tell your co-workers, friends and family members to do the same as well.
Just as our nation did with universal health care over half a century ago, Canada must live up to its original promise and establish a universal, comprehensive, publicly-administered and sustainable pharmacare program that works for everyone.