“What’s the point of having your diagnosis covered, if you can’t afford the medication you need? The lack of access to medically necessary medicines is not only a major gap in our system, it is contrary to the very principle of medicare for all.” — Sara Labelle, OPSEU, Hospital Professionals Division
Oshawa (07 Dec,. 2017) — At a public forum on pharmacare in Oshawa last week, area residents had a clear message for the federal government: Canada needs a national universal drug plan to improve access to prescription drugs, control high costs, and ensure drug safety.
Canada lags behind countries that have universal health care withdrug coverage
Area residents were shocked to learn that Canada is the only country in the world with a universal public health system that does not cover prescription medication.
“In far too many cases, patients are forced to choose between filling their prescriptions or paying for other necessities, like hydro bills or groceries,” said Sara Labelle, Chair of the Hospital Professionals Division of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/NUPGE), and a speaker at the public forum. “What’s the point of having your diagnosis covered, if you can’t afford the medication you need? The lack of access to medically necessary medicines is not only a major gap in our system, it is contrary to the very principle of Medicare for all.”
Ontario's OHIP+ program doesn't come close to helping the majority of people in need
In April, Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne announced an OHIP+ program to expand drug coverage to Ontarians below the age of 25. But advocates argue this plan does not go far enough.
“That program will not help the vast majority of working Ontarians, many of whom are struggling to raise a family, pay their bills and pay for drugs,” said Labelle. “It doesn’t address the inefficiencies or high costs associated with having a mixed bag of drug policies and pricing across provinces; it doesn’t allow us, as a country, to reach our full bulk bargaining power and bring down costs. OHIP+ is a bandaid provincial response to a national problem.”
Universal drug coverage makes sense
Each year, Canadians spend more than $30 billion for prescription medications in what’s been described as a patchwork of programs, with some public programs, private insurance, and out-of-pocket costs. According to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, a universal program would amount to $4.2 billion in annual savings in Canada, while other experts estimate savings closer to $11 billion per year.
“Universal national drug coverage just makes sense,” said Warren (Smokey) Thomas, OPSEU President. “Ontario makes up nearly 40 per cent of Canada’s total population; we are a powerful province, and when it comes to pharmacare, Ontarians are demanding federal action. Premier Wynne must represent our interests, and must continue to demand action from her federal counterparts.”
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 370,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. — NUPGE