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Many Canadians were excited when Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government announced in the 2018 Federal Budget the establishment of a committee to analyze the implementation of a national pharmacare plan. However, the budget announcement left out one key word – universal. Pharmacare

The importance of the word ‘universal’ was highlighted in the day that followed the budget announcement, when Finance Minister Bill Morneau delivered a speech to the Economic Club of Canada declaring: “We need a strategy to deal with the fact not everyone has access, and we need to do it in a way that’s responsible, that deals with the gaps, but doesn’t throw out the system we currently have.”

In other words, the Finance Minister pulled the plug on a truly universal pharmacare plan. Considering that Morneau’s family business, Morneau Shepell, is a benefits consulting firm that provides consultation on drug care issues and benefits, this should surprise no one.

Canada is the only country in the world with a universal health care program that does not include a universal prescription drug program. A recent study revealed that over 3.5 million Canadians are not taking life-saving medication because of cost. Canadians are skipping days to stretch their prescriptions, splitting their pills, sharing their medicines, or going deeper into debt to pay for their prescriptions, with the result often being worsening health complications.

It is estimated that 8.4 million working Canadians do not have employer-funded medical benefits, with women and young workers less likely to have these benefits. Even those Canadians with employer-funded health benefit plans are paying more out-of-pocket costs for their drugs due to increasing co-payments and deductibles.

When NDP founder Tommy Douglas introduced Canada’s first universal health program in Saskatchewan, he always said that it was stage one of a much larger plan that would include universal drug coverage and universal dental care. Numerous studies have shown that a universal pharmacare plan would save Canadians billions of dollars.

A national pharmacare plan that continues to allow for private insurance and only fills in the gaps for those not covered would continue to allow insurers to undermine the health of Canadians and would not achieve the savings of a universal program. The Liberal government would like nothing more than to go into the next election claiming they have implemented a national pharmacare program. However, if it is not universal, it is not the program we need.

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