It took political will to write the first chapter of medicare.
Now momentum is building across the country for the next chapter: national pharmacare.
I have been passionate about national pharmacare and breaking down barriers to health care since entering medical school 30 years ago. Since becoming Ontario’s Minister of Health, I have been determined to put pharmacare back on the national agenda.
It’s undoubtedly one of the most important steps we can take to rededicate ourselves to the principle of universal access to health care. And it’s why I put the issue of national pharmacare on the front burner at the meeting with my provincial, territorial, and federal colleagues earlier this fall.
We will need collective leadership to see pharmacare move past a pipe dream.
Saskatchewan blazed a path forward for public health insurance in the 1950s, and the rest of our country had no choice but to take notice. This led to the formation of a Royal Commission, and after years of engaging the public it came back with the underpinnings for our most revered national symbol: medicare.
Even in 1964, as medical advances were just starting to take shape, the Commission strongly recommended public insurance for prescription drugs. Regrettably, this suggestion was never taken up, and it is a gap in universal coverage that too many Canadians live in 50 years later.
As happened with the birth of medicare, we will need collective leadership to see pharmacare move past a pipe dream. As citizens, we believe that every person must have access to health care regardless of their ability to pay. There may simply be no more Canadian a value. This also means that no Canadian should have to choose between putting food on the table or filling their latest prescription.
As a public health doctor, I’ve had the privilege of working for two decades in a community clinic that serves a population struggling with poverty, unemployment and housing challenges. Too often I have treated patients who I knew were having trouble affording the essential medications I would prescribe. This can certainly lead to uneven health outcomes, and with one-in-10 Canadians unable to afford the medication they need, this is a gap in our health care system that we no longer can afford to ignore.
While a pharmacare program would lessen such inequalities across our country, it also makes good economic sense. There is now a surfeit of evidence for significant cost-savings. Recent reports from the Canadian Federation of Nurses and Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives peg those savings at around $11 billion each year.