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Canada  

Health care providers, advocates cry foul over stalled action on pharmacare

Pharmacare promise stalls

Doctors and nurses on the front lines of Canada's health system are sounding the alarm after the Liberal government appears to have put its promise of a national pharmacare program on the back burner.

When the Trudeau government delivered its first federal budget in two years last month, it included more than $100 billion in new spending over the three years.

But while there was one brief mention of pharmacare in the 739-page document, it only re-stated a commitment from the 2019 budget of $500 million for a national program for high-cost drugs for rare diseases.

Dr. Melanie Bechard, a pediatric emergency room physician and chair of Doctors for Medicare, says she was disappointed at the lack of new funding for pharmacare in the budget. She believes it’s an indication the government is not making it a priority.

"I was very disappointed because the government has promised national pharmacare. They've conducted a study that really outlined the path to get there," she said.

Even the Budget 2021 document itself acknowledges that "the case for universal pharmacare is well-established," Bechard noted.

"The budget acknowledges that it makes sense. It's good public policy. But unfortunately, we're just getting words instead of any funding towards it, so that's completely ineffectual."

The Liberals campaigned on a promise to "take the critical next steps to implement national universal pharmacare" in their 2019 election platform, and similar commitments have since appeared in throne speeches and mandate letters to the federal health minister.

In 2019, an expert panel appointed by the Liberals recommended a universal, single-payer public pharmacare system should be created in Canada to replace the current patchwork of prescription drug plans. This panel, which was led by former Ontario health minister Eric Hoskins, reported that such a plan would result in savings of an estimated $5 billion annually.

Canadians spent $34 billion on prescription medicines in 2018, the panel report said, adding drugs are the second-biggest expenditure in health care after hospitals.

Bechard says emergency room doctors and primary care physicians see patients every day whose health conditions have worsened from trying to ration medications they can't afford.

"I have seen instances where kids have come into the emergency department having asthma attacks, and the parents show me inhalers and they're nearly empty. And when I say, 'We need to refill this so that we can avoid situations like this,' the parents say, 'Well, these are expensive to refill, Dr. Melanie, we can't always afford to get a new one every couple of months.'

"And it's sad because arguably the child did not need to come into the emergency department if they had sufficient medication at home."



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