National pharmacare could start in 2020, says Liberal MP

Canadians have reason to remain hopeful that a national pharmacare program will be taking shape by 2020, a senior member of the Commons Health Committee said Wednesday.

“The expectation, the hope, from those that have been championing this for some time is that 2020 is the year that we see the beginning,” Liberal MP John Oliver (Oakville) told an iPoliticsLive luncheon panel event to discuss drug costs and public health care. Oliver is a member of the Health Committee and a longtime hospital administrator before going into politics. “It’s going to be gradual but that’s the year we begin to see national pharmacare being implemented.”

The Health Committee has been studying the feasibility of a pan-Canadian pharmacare program. Its report is due out early next year.

Health stakeholders and politicians gathered for the panel to discuss the possibility of a pan-Canadian pharmacare accord. Oliver was joined by Janet Yale, CEO of the Arthritis Society, Iris Krawchenko of the Canadian Pharmacists Association and Deputy Parliamentary Budget Officer Mostafa Askari.

Canada, Oliver added, is the only country that has a universal healthcare model with no pharmacare included.

“Any country that has a universal health system has pharmacare,” said Oliver.

Health professionals have been calling for a pharmacare program to ensure Canadians can afford the drugs they are prescribed. Currently, Oliver said, one in ten Canadians cannot access their prescribed medication due to cost.

Yale told the panel that a father she knew began drinking heavily after he realized he could no longer afford his son’s $25,000 per year arthritis medication. Without the medication, Yale said, his son would struggle to find work.

“(The father) was looking at taking out a mortgage on his house to be able to continue paying for the drugs his son so desperately needed,” said Yale.

While there is currently no formal pharmacare plan on the Liberal agenda, Oliver said that his colleagues are very interested in the issue.

“It is really, really strongly supported in the Liberal caucus,” he said.

“The minster of health’s new mandate letter includes studying the need for a national formulary, which to me is a pretty healthy indication of an interest in going in this direction (toward lowering drug costs).”

Other panel participants, however, were concerned about the affordability of a pharmacare plan.

In response to an audience question about cost, Askari said that while a PBO report on pharmacare found that the implementation of such a program is “definitely possible,” he has doubts.

“One really has to be cautious of what the future cost of such a program is,” he said.

Yale was quick to shoot down cost concerns.

“We’re not looking at the unintended costs of doing nothing,” she said.

“As Canadians, we have to stand up and say, ‘This is an important part of the healthcare system and it’s time for it to be recognized and included.’”

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