'Let’s call it for what it is': Tory bid to focus pharmacare bill fails at committee

Feds accused of 'false hope'

Conservatives say the federal government is offering "false hope" to Canadians with a national pharmacare bill that will not initially apply to a broad range of medications.

The Liberals and NDP, who collaborated on the program, say the bill is a "framework legislation" that will guide a future universal and single-payer plan.

But to start, the bill includes a program that will cover only diabetes medication and contraceptives.

"Let’s call it for what it is," Conservative MP Todd Doherty told the House of Commons health committee Monday.

"They're misleading Canadians, giving false hope that this is a pharmacare bill."

Conservatives on the committee moved 40 amendments Monday, trying to alter the focus of the pharmacare bill to make it more clear it is restricted to just those two types of treatments.

"The two medications that it does propose to cover are simply contraception and treatment of diabetes and potentially associated devices, and even that is a bit of a stretch," said Conservative health critic Stephen Ellis, who criticized the list of drugs the government expects to cover.

He highlighted the exclusion of semaglutide antidiabetic medications like Ozempic from the list, which are also used off-label as weight loss-drugs.

The committee rejected the vast majority of the amendments and passed the bill with only minor changes, leaving just one stage of debate left to complete in the House of Commons. It still has to go through debate in the Senate.

The amendments would have put limits on pharmacare in the future, NDP health critic Peter Julian said.

"To limit the scope or the purpose of the Act, to my mind, does a disservice not only to all those who are going to benefit from pharmacare in its first stage, which is diabetes medication and contraception," he said, but also to "all those who are looking to see the next stage of pharmacare."

The bill is the result of extensive negotiations between the NDP and the Liberals as part of the political pact to prevent an early election. It was a key NDP demand.

The Liberals initially promised only a bill that would set the stage for a future pharmacare program. When the government missed the 2023 deadline to table that legislation, the parties agreed to include immediate coverage for birth control and diabetes medications.

The government wants to see the bill make its way through the House as quickly as possible so Health Minister Mark Holland can begin negotiating with provinces to administer the new program before the summer break.

He's in talks with senators about expediting the bill through the Senate as well.

"Having the elected will of the House of Commons behind the bill is essential to have those conversations," he said Tuesday.

Holland said the list of birth control and diabetes drugs covered under the program will be developed over the course of those negotiations.

"I'm hopeful that provinces will see this as an opportunity to take expanded action, and so we'll have conversations with each province about what the range of possibility is," he said.

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