APWG: Bill C-213 important step towards a long-awaited national, universal Pharmacare

February 23, 2021

Bill C-213 important step towards long-awaited national, universal Pharmacare

EDMONTON - The Alberta Pharmacare Working Group (APWG) is encouraged by the tabling and subsequent debate of Bill C-213, An Act to Enact the Canada Pharmacare Act. If passed, this private member’s bill would create a framework for the implementation of a national pharmacare program modeled after the Canada Health Act, founded on the principles of public administration, comprehensiveness, universality, portability and accessibility. The Bill comes before the House of Commons in an historic vote tomorrow, February 24, 2021.
Alberta alone has a complex patchwork of 23 public drug and supplementary benefit plans, and yet nearly one quarter of households report cost barriers to accessing their prescribed medications. This failure to meet peoples’ everyday medical needs is the consequence of a costly and ineffective fragmented model of drug coverage that has been allowed to continue for far too long. 
Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on our working population. As of April 28, 2020, Service Canada reported 7.3 million Canadians applied for aid through the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. Statistics Canada reports that 1 in 5 Canadian businesses laid off more than 80% of its staff. Given that Canada has more than 100,000 private insurance plans, this surely has resulted in many thousands of Albertans left without prescription drug coverage previously provided by employer benefit plans.
Seniors are some of the worst impacted by inadequate drug coverage. Individuals on fixed incomes and public drug plans face high deductibles, co-pays, and caps on remittances, meaning that medications remain unaffordable for many. "Alberta Seniors United Now, a non-profit organization dedicated to speaking for Alberta seniors, strongly support a national universal pharmacare program, coordinated with the provinces to provide reasonably priced medications to seniors in Alberta," says Linda Osborne, Executive Director.
A 2020 Angus Reid Institute poll found that an overwhelming majority of Canadians support a national pharmacare plan. “Albertans are among the close to 90% of Canadians who want a national prescription drug plan for Canada.” says Judy Lederer, President of the Edmonton Area Council of the Congress of Union Retirees of Canada. “Albertans continue to send hundreds of letters from every corner of our province to their federal and provincial representatives, asking for the urgent implementation of a national Pharmacare plan to save both money and lives.”
Coping with the crisis of a world-wide pandemic, Canada finds ourselves in an historic moment that must not be squandered. "If we have learned one fact from our experience with the pandemic, it is that when need and the political will are both present, the necessary funds will be made available. The federal government has abundant evidence for the need and claims to have the political will," says John Wodak, chairman of the Seniors' Action and Liaison Team.
The implementation of a national pharmacare plan would be the first major expansion of our public health care system since the Medical Care Act of 1966. “This is a critical opportunity for all federal parties to come together to finally implement a national, universal pharmacare program,” states Sandra Azocar, Executive Director of Friends of Medicare. “The member organizations of the APWG encourage Members of Parliament from every political party to act in the interest of all Canadians by showing their support of Bill C-213.”
“Short-term solutions result in people falling through the cracks. We need a long-term vision for the health and well-being of all,” says Joel French, Executive Director of Public Interest Alberta. “Pharmacare will ensure that all Canadians have access to the medications they need, independent of factors including age, marital or employment status, or where they live.”
Given the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become critical that our governments renew their commitment to our central values that hold that access to health care must be available based on need, not wealth. In this pivotal legislative moment, it is imperative that provincial and federal representatives act on this opportunity to finally ensure that all Albertans and Canadians have equitable and affordable access to the medications they need. Doing so will result in cost savings of over $16 billion for Canadian households and employers, and most importantly, will save countless lives

The Alberta Pharmacare Working Group (APWG), comprised of a coalition of seniors’, labour and advocacy organizations, has been working to bring attention to the urgent need for a national, universal pharmacare program.