trudeau and singh

Liberal Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh participate in a debate in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada on September 9, 2021.

(Photo: Justin Tang/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Canadians Cheer 'Big Deal' Plan for Single-Payer Pharmacare

However, at least two provinces—Alberta and Quebec—have said they would opt out, which critics called "outrageous."

Advocates of boosting Canadians' access to prescription drugs in recent days have cautiously celebrated forthcoming legislation for a universal national pharmacare program, which will begin with coverage of contraceptives and diabetes medication.

The supply and confidence agreement between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberals and the New Democratic Party (NDP)—announced in 2022 and set to continue through the middle of next year—called for "passing a Canada Pharmacare Act by the end of 2023 and then tasking the National Drug Agency to develop a national formulary of essential medicines and bulk purchasing plan by the end of the agreement."

However, the parties last year agreed to push it until March 1. With that deadline rapidly approaching, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh on Friday confirmed to CTV News that the parties had struck a deal on "historic" draft legislation.

"I can proudly say that not only do we have legislation that specifically refers to single-payer, that refers to the Canada Health Act, and the principles and values, we also have secured commitments to delivering diabetes medication and contraceptives using a single-payer public model," Singh said in a Sunday appearance on CTV.

The draft hasn't yet been introduced, but Nikolas Barry-Shaw, the trade and privatization campaigner at the Council of Canadians, highlighted in a Monday analysis that "several leaks (if correct) have suggested the Canada Pharmacare Act will include plans to develop a list of essential medicines that would be covered by pharmacare and a bulk purchasing plan, as well as an 'implementation council' to advise on financing."

"This represents one of the biggest advances in Canadian healthcare in decades but it's nevertheless a fragile victory," Barry-Shaw declared. "The program would be life-changing for people who rely on birth control and diabetes medications, and after the legislation is passed we hope the formulary will be expanded so more people can have that life-changing access to medicines."

Bea Bruske, president of the Canadian Labor Congress, also welcomed the win, saying Friday that "this is a BIG deal" and "represents the most significant enhancement to our healthcare system since the creation of public healthcare in Canada."

"I have personally heard from workers unable to afford their diabetes medications, and parents faced with the heart-wrenching choice between feeding their children or providing them with essential lifesaving medicines," Bruske continued, taking aim at Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre, who said he wants to see the plan's details when asked about it on Friday.

"These are the struggles many Canadians face daily—not the fake outrage that Mr. Poilievre is talking about these days. The introduction of a universal single-payer pharmacare program is not just a policy change; it's a lifeline that will bring tangible improvements to the lives of countless individuals," Bruske stressed. "This achievement is a testament to the power of collective effort and advocacy."

While the plan, as Barry-Shaw detailed, would involve the federal government buying prescription drugs in bulk, so that everyone in Canada with a health card can get them without any out-of-pocket costs, "pharmacare will be delivered through provincial drug plans," which, as he the campaigner put it, is "a double-edged sword."

Global Newsreported that in a Sunday email, the office of Alberta Health Minister Adriana LaGrange, who belongs to the United Conservative Party (UCP), "said that if the federal government pursues a national pharmacare program, Alberta intends to opt out, and instead intends to obtain a full per capita share of the funding."

Blasting Alberta's UCP premier, Friends of Medicare executive director Chris Gallaway said Monday that "by preempting their decision on pharmacare even before the federal announcement is made, Danielle Smith's government has made it clear they would rather play politics than get things done to help Albertans. By doing so, they are siding with the profits of big pharmaceutical and insurance corporations over the health and well-being of Albertans."

"Canada currently pays some of the highest drug costs in the world, and millions are struggling to afford the medications that they need," Gallaway noted. "It is well documented that moving to a national, single-payer pharmacare plan would save governments, employers, Albertans, and our provincial healthcare systems billions of dollars per year. And most importantly it would save countless lives!"

"The fact is, Canada remains the only country with a universal Medicare program that does not include prescription medications," he added. "At a moment when so many Albertans are struggling with the cost of living, and access to the healthcare they need, it is outrageous to see our provincial government working to undermine this long-overdue expansion of our public healthcare coverage."

Alberta is not alone among Canada's 10 provinces and three territories. According toCTV, "Quebec has also said it intends to opt out, and British Columbia and New Brunswick said they're waiting for details before deciding whether to sign on."

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