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Pharmacare 2019: Where do Canada’s federal parties stand on a national drug access plan?

Timely access to medications is a key concern for any breast cancer patient, but drug access in Canada has long been a minefield to navigate. Inequitable access to medications across provinces, drug shortages and long wait times to access new treatments are just some of the issues patients and their families routinely encounter in their quest for treatment. National Pharmacare-a plan to reimburse prescription medications in a similar fashion as our healthcare system-has often been proposed as a solution to many of the drug access issues that Canadians currently experience. While Pharmacare has been debated nationally for a long time, it is only recently that the idea has gained real traction and momentum. With the upcoming federal election on October 21st, CBCN reviews where the major federal political parties stand on this important issue:

Liberal Party of Canada

On September 23, the Liberal Party released their health care plan. The plan includes a section on “Implementing National Pharmacare,” which aims to:

  • “Establish the Canada Drug Agency to make drug purchasing more effective and efficient.
  • Implement a national formulary with provinces, territories and other stakeholders in order to further lower drug prices.
  • Implement a rare disease drug strategy to help Canadian families save money on high-cost drugs.”

The plan follows up on the report and recommendations established by the Liberal government through the Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare. That report recommended that Canada implement universal, single-payer, public pharmacare.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has also stated that if re-elected, the Liberals will propose a national universal pharmacare plan, but that it will not be imposed on provinces who do not wish to participate.

Conservative Party of Canada

At the time of publishing this post, the Conservative Party has not yet released its platform. However, responses to the Liberal government’s Advisory Council’s report indicate support for an approach that would “fill the gap” for people who do not have access to provincial drug plans or employee sponsored plans, rather than the implementation of a universal national Pharmacare program.

Upon the release of the Liberal party’s health care plan, the Conservative Party stated their concern that a Liberal Pharmacare plan would replace current employee drug plans with a government-imposed plan.

Previously, at their 2018 convention, the Conservative Party stated their support for the following:

  • All Canadians should have reasonable access to timely, quality health care services, regardless of their ability to pay
  • Provinces and territories should have maximum flexibility to ensure the delivery of medically necessary health services within a universal, public health care system.
  • Support for the addition of a sixth principle to the Canada Health Act to provide stable and transparent federal funding
  • Support for working with the provinces in a co-operative and constructive manner.
  • Flexibility for the provinces and territories in the implementation of health services should include a balance of public and private delivery options.

New Democratic Party (NDP)

As part of their 2019  commitments document, the NDP have included a specific section around implementing a national, universal, public pharmacare program.  The section states the following:

  • Plan aims to save Canadian families more than $500 a year on average– even if they have insurance at work or school. Businesses currently providing health insurance are projected to save around $600 per employee with full coverage for all employees.
  • Prescription medication would be available with a health card, without worries about co-pays, deductibles  or premiums.
  • A projected $4.2 billion savings through bulk purchasing and joint price negotiations which will be used to give better coverage to all Canadians.

Green Party of Canada

This September the Green Party released their election platform, which included a section on health care. The platform stated the party’s intent to support the recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee on Health to expand the Canada Health Act to include prescription drugs dispensed outside of a hospital and included the following commitments:

  • Expand the single-payer Medicare model to include Pharmacare for everyone as well as free dental care for low-income Canadians.
  • Create a bulk drug purchasing agency
  • Reduce drug patent protection periods.

Bloc Québécois

In March 2019, in advance of the party’s federal pre-budget request, Bloc Québécois MP Gabriel Ste-Marie indicated that the party would expect Québec to be fully compensated, should national Pharmacare be implemented in Canada.

People's Party of Canada

The People's Party of Canada’s platform states that “healthcare is an exclusive provincial jurisdiction.” Specifically on the issue of national Pharmacare, leader Maxime Bernier has indicated his opposition to federal involvement on this issue, citing it as a federal intrusion and a violation of the Canadian constitution. 

Instead the party’s platform document pledges:

  • “To create the conditions for provincial and territorial governments to innovate. Provinces will be responsible for health care funding and management, and fully accountable to their citizens for the results, while Ottawa will respect the Constitution and stop meddling.”

Though the parties may have vastly different takes on Pharmacare, it is interesting to see the topic of drug access and affordability be prioritized and given the national spotlight.  While patients have long been aware of the importance of this issue, more and more Canadians are becoming aware of the need for a plan to provide families with timely access to essential medications. Now with the election fast approaching, average Canadians will finally have the ability to weigh in on this critical issue and potentially change the landscape of our national health care system.