Time to get on with the pharmacare job
Pharmacare, of some kind, is coming to Ontario. Probably across Canada.
Why? Because Canadians want it. One comprehensive survey, by the Angus Reid Institute, reports that more than 90 per cent of respondents favour pharmacare. Because it’s needed. The same survey found that one quarter of Canadians say they or someone in their home cannot afford prescribed drugs and are splitting pills or doses to make the medicine go further, or worse, not renewing or even filling prescriptions. Corporate drug benefit programs are under huge and increasing strain because of increasing cost and need.
The percentage of the workforce today working in contract, part-time or otherwise precarious employment is huge and growing. Many, if not most, of those workers don’t qualify for drug coverage to begin with. The high cost of prescription drugs mean many aren’t getting their prescriptions filled.
That’s one appealing thing about the Wynne government’s pharmacare plan, set to roll out in January. It’s not terribly broad as it will only apply to people up to age 24. But it is deep because of the large and growing need in that population, and because Ontario already has pharmacare through the Trillium Program for social assistance recipients and seniors who can’t otherwise afford the drugs they need. The government’s plan will cover nearly all drugs.
That’s a different approach than the one being taken by Andrea Horwath’s NDP, who propose a more universal program but with only 125 of the most popular drugs covered at the outset.
Which approach is better? That’s a matter of some debate. Some complain the NDP plan is poorly costed. Others complain the Liberal plan excludes a big chunk of the population.
Pharmacare is a missing link in Canada’s universal health care system. It’s time that link was forged. Our preference would have been for Ottawa to take the lead, but as with needed Canada pension reform, the feds couldn’t get their act together, so Ontario had to make the first move.
So if pharmacare makes so much sense, why haven’t most governments already moved on it? Why is Canada the only country with so-called universal health care that doesn’t include pharmacare?
It’s because of cost. Pharmacare is expensive to implement, although once governments can start buying drugs in sufficiently large volumes, big savings can be realized. It will also save overall because people who don’t take their prescriptions typically end up with health outcomes that demand more acute and expensive intervention. And none of that gets better with our aging population, living longer but with more chronic ailments that require drug treatment.
It’s time to get on with this job, across Canada.