December 3, 2023
The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2
Re: Pharmacare for All Canadians
Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,
Canada remains the only country in the world with a universal health care system that doesn’t include prescription medication.
A publicly funded, universal drug coverage program paid for by progressive taxation would provide all Canadians with access to the affordable prescription medicines they need. People would be healthier and many would no longer have the economic burden of paying for medications out-of-pocket.
As far back as 1964, the Royal Commission on Health Services recommended that Canada implement a universal, public pharmacare program following the introduction of universal coverage of medical care, which finally took place in two years later in 1966.
Pharmacare was also a central feature of the original vision of Tommy Douglas, when he began creating universal health programs as Premier of Saskatchewan in the late 1940s.
The federal Liberal government recently appointed (yet another) study on the benefits of pharmacare, but Canadians have been waiting long enough for affordable prescription drugs. It has been studied to death, and it’s time for action now.
In June, (yet another) private member’s bill was tabled to establish a universal, single-payer pharmacare program, which is a major provision of the current House of Commons supply-and-confidence agreement between the Liberals and the New Democratic Party.
The reality is that Canadians want it. According to a recent Angus Reid national survey, 91% of Canadians agree with the concept of a universal pharmacare program, and 81% believe this should be a priority issue.
Canadians spend over $30 billion to fill more than 600 million prescriptions each year. That’s more than four times what they spent on prescriptions just two decades ago. Drug prices continue to skyrocket for Canadians and more people have to choose between getting the medications they need and paying for necessities, like food or rent.
Currently, 2 million Canadians incur over $1,000 a year in out-of-pocket expenses for prescription drugs, and one in five Canadian families can’t even afford to fill their prescriptions because of cost.
Pharmacare would save money, because far too many Canadians aren’t taking their prescribed medications due to increasing prices. This causes many to later develop illnesses and diseases which place financial burdens on other services within the Canadian health care system that cost far more than those medications would have in the first place.
Canada’s parliamentary budget officer stated in 2017 that a national pharmacare program would save over $4.2 billion every year, not only for Canadian workers, but for business owners as well who will no longer have to pay ever-increasing prescription coverage rates for employees.
Pharmacare would also mean a better coordinated, safer and more efficient delivery of affordable medicines to those who need them, as opposed to the current, fragmented patchwork of private and public drug coverage in Canada that isolates the management of medicines from the wider health care system, which can result in the overuse and misuse of prescription drugs.
Just as our nation did with universal health care over half a century ago, Canada must live up to its original promise and establish a universal, comprehensive, publicly-administered and sustainable pharmacare program that works for everyone. Canadians have waited long enough.
President, Confederation of Canadian Unions
president AT ccu-csc.ca