Universal PharmacarePublished on 29 January 2015 Your Question Period by Senator James Cowan (retired)
Please press play to listen to the audio of this question. Please note that the audio is provided in the language in which the senators spoke. Senators may speak either official language in the Senate Chamber. For the full text of the translated exchange please click here.
Hon. James S. Cowan (Leader of the Opposition):
Thank you, Your Honour. My question is for my friend the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I did call his office yesterday and gave him notice of this question so that he would have an opportunity to acquire some information with respect to it.
This is another in a series of questions that we’ve received in response to our invitation to Canadians to ask questions. Today, this comes from three first-year medical students and representatives of the Canadian Federation of Medical Students.
Vivian Tam is the junior Government Affairs and Advocacy Committee representative at the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine at McMaster University; Lucy Soudek is the junior Government Affairs and Advocacy Committee representative at Dalhousie University Medical School; and Henry Annan is the junior Global Health Advocate at Dalhousie University Medical School. This is what they wrote. It’s quite lengthy, but I’m sure we’ll all agree it’s an important issue. I will read the question in the form in which they ask it:
On November 24, 2014, we, and about seventy of our fellow medical students, met with your colleagues on Parliament Hill on behalf of the Canadian Federation of Medical Students. Together, we hoped to draw attention to the negative impact that the current fragmented approach to pharmaceutical coverage has on the Canadian healthcare system. We proposed that the Government of Canada convene a Special Committee or Task Force to do the following:
1. Report on the current state of pharmaceutical coverage in Canada, and
2. Outline steps towards the development of a national Pharmacare system that corrects current financial inefficiencies while ensuring Canadians have equal access to necessary medicine as part of a truly universal health care system.
There are financial and health benefits associated with universal Pharmacare. It is estimated that Pharmacare could save Canada upwards of $11 billion every year and dramatically reduce the costs of prescription drugs for Canadians by increasing purchasing power. A universal Pharmacare system would place Canada on par with our OECD peers. As it stands, we are the only OECD country with a universal healthcare system that does not include coverage for prescription medications. These facts may already be familiar to you as the topic of Pharmacare has been raised at prior Senate Question Periods. Indeed, the momentum for universal Pharmacare has been building for quite some time now, and an estimated 78 per cent of Canadians support such a policy according to a 2013 EKOS poll. It is our hope that continued support from the public and medical community can transform slow progress into tangible change.
As medical students, we have already seen the harsh realities of a healthcare system in which patients are unable to afford necessary treatments. As we learn to take a patient’s history, we are taught to also ask, “Do you have a drug plan?” Unfortunately, negative responses are all too common. One in ten patients report having difficulty affording their prescription medications. We are therefore left with a system where patients who have the ability to pay for medicines can enjoy better health. This is not the kind of equitable, sustainable healthcare system we envisioned for our future practice. Consequently, our question to you is this: Is the Government of Canada willing to fulfill the Canadian Federation of Medical Students’ request and further study the possibility of universal Pharmacare?