It's crunch time for pharmacare!

It's crunch time for pharmacare!

On September 7, Friends of Medicare hosted a public townhall event in Edmonton, on how we can achieve a national, universal, public townhall for all. 

We were joined by panelists Elizabeth Kwan, Senior Researcher for the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), Pauline Worsfold, Chair of the Canadian Health Coalition (CHC), and Judy Lederer, President of the Edmonton Area Council of the Congress of Union Retirees of Canada (CURC) and co-chair of the Alberta Pharmacare Working Group. We heard from our panelists and participants about how critical this political moment is in the fight for a universal, public drug program — and how important it is that we don't miss our chance to act on it.

Judy Lederer also sits on the board of Friends of Medicare, and has shared her presentation with us here:

Good evening, and thank you all for coming to our Town Hall, as we work together to make history and finally bring to Canada a single payer national prescription drug plan – which is the unfinished business of medicare.  The Confidence & Supply Agreement signed in March 2022 specifies that we must have legislation in place by the end of 2023.  So this is now crunch time for pharmacare.  And later on in this meeting you will hear ways in which you can help to push our federal liberal government to make it happen.

The call for single payer pharmacare is not new.  It began more than 50 years ago, even before Medicare was enacted in 1966.  And today, many years later, the cost of prescription medication in our country has risen dramatically.  We are third highest in the world, at a projected cost of 37 to 39 billion dollars in 2023.  The second highest cost in our health care system, it actually threatens the sustainability of medicare itself – and with cost related non adherence to essential medicines – it costs our health care system a further 4 billion dollars a year in hospital/ER visits and stays.  

Our current multi- payer system, favored by the pharmaceutical and insurance industries, is expensive, inefficient, and patchwork. With more than 100 public and more than 113,000 private insurance plans, it still leaves more than 7.5 million Canadians with little or no coverage.  The extension of the patent protection period for new drugs (10 years in 1987 and 20 years in 1993) contributed hugely to the drastic rise in prescription drug costs.  Prior to 1987, Canada had some of the lowest drug prices, but after patent protection period expansion, drug prices rose hugely.

It does not have to be this way.  But the longer we wait to implement pharmacare – the more costly prescription drug coverage gets, growing at 4 to 5 percent each year.  And the longer we wait, the more Canadians suffer. Hundreds die each year, as noted in the 2018 Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions 2018 study, Body Count.  This study examined the effects of cost related non-adherence to prescription medications.  It calculated the number of deaths per year when people cut back or don’t take essential medications for illnesses like ischemic heart disease or diabetes, to name a few.

So - we demand our federal government take action NOW to bring in a Canada Pharmacare Act before the end of 2023, to provide the legislative framework for a single payer national prescription drug plan, one that is premised on the five basic principles of our Canada Health Act.  It must be publicly administered, comprehensive, universal, portable and accessible.  And there must be funding in the 2024 budget to begin implementing the recommendations and road map provided by Dr. Eric Hoskins in the 2019 final report of the Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare.  With an infusion of 3.5 billion dollars in each of 5 year, we end up with full implementation at the end costing 15 billion dollars. Unfortunately, thanks to the liberal government dragging its heels, we are now overdue for phase 1 (year 1), which was supposed to cover all essential medicines – over half of all medications used by Canadians (the commonly prescribed ones) by January 2022.  

We could be saving, conservatively, 5 billion dollars per year with single payer pharmacare - $750 per employee per year for employers, and $350 per family per year.  And we could be saving lives.  And saving costs to our health care system, savings which could be used to bolster other needed health care spending.  For example, Dr. Steve Morgan in his May 2022 letter to the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Finance, and Minister of Health signed by 1,000 health professionals, states “Further, government and academic studies estimate that a universal, public pharmacare program will save Canadians between $4 billion and $7 billion per year.  That is enough savings to pay for 30 to 50 percent more primary health care providers across Canada.”

So what have we been doing here in Alberta to pressure our federal government to live up to its promises?  The Edmonton Area Council of the Congress of Union Retirees of Canada, and the Alberta Federation of Union Retirees (the provincial arm of CURC) called together 11 organizations to form the Alberta Pharmacare Working Group in December 2017.  Working under the umbrella of the Friends of Medicare, we eventually grew to become 20 organizations, a combination of unions, seniors and advocacy groups,  working together to campaign for pharmacare.

We began by joining the Canadian Labour Congress Pharmacare Campaign in 2017 – A Plan for Everyone.  We signed their online petition (over 20,000 Albertans), printed and circulated paper petitions, met with and lobbied all 34 Alberta MP’s in 2018/2019, tabled petitions in the House of Commons with former Edmonton Strathcona MP, Linda Duncan, and sent thousands of letters to the federal minister of health (a total of 3 different ministers over the years), along with letters to all 34 Alberta MP’s.  And we met personally with Edmonton Centre Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault – the only Alberta Cabinet Minister in the federal liberal minority government – on 3 separate occasions.  

We continue to provide information tables of pharmacare literature, along with letters to be signed, at conventions, and any other events at which we get invitations to attend, distributing articles on pharmacare, and collecting letters.  We also accepted invitations to speak to retiree luncheons, seniors’ events, union conventions, and labour schools.  And I want to take time to thank all the APWG member organizations for their help and support along the way, raising awareness and taking action to take us over the finish line.  

For it is our belief that collective action is necessary in order to make history.  And, as Jack Layton used to say “Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.”

Thank you for listening. 

➤ Add your voice to the call for Pharmacare
➤ Support Friends of Medicare's work