As another surge of COVID-19 and a crushing health worker shortage once again push our nation’s hospitals to the brink, Canada’s doctors and nurses are calling attention to the need for national pharmacare. Had the federal government followed the advice it received from its own Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare, essential medicines would now be covered under Medicare.
“At a time when hospitals across the country are stretched to the limit, it is incumbent on the government to do everything in its power to keep its citizens healthy and lessen the pressures on our health care system,” said Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions.
Doctors and nurses regularly see patients in the ER because they aren’t taking their medication as prescribed – often because of cost. These avoidable visits add additional pressures on our health care system.
“It is frustrating and heartbreaking to see patients end up in the emergency department simply because they couldn’t afford to pay for their medications,” said Dr. Melanie Bechard, Chair of Canadian Doctors for Medicare and a Pediatric Emergency Physician in Ottawa. “Under our universal health care system, cost shouldn’t be a barrier to treatment. Providing our patients with access to the right treatment plan, including prescription medications, is essential to helping them lead healthy lives.”
Before the pandemic, one in five Canadian households was unable to afford their medications. As COVID-19 wreaked havoc on our economy, many Canadians suddenly found themselves without a job. These workers lost not only much-needed income, but for many it meant the loss of their employer-provided private drug plan as well.
The 2019 pharmacare report called for essential medicine coverage to begin in January 2022. This new coverage would have included insulin, asthma inhalers, common blood pressure medications, and antiretrovirals that treat HIV, to name a few.
Since the 1960s, five separate national commissions have called for prescription drugs to be included in Canada’s public health system. Canada is the only high-income country with a universal health care system that doesn’t include coverage for prescription medicines.
“It’s time for the federal government to stop putting the profits of big pharma and insurance companies before the millions of Canadians who struggle to afford the drugs they need,” said Silas.
When it tabled its 2019 report, the advisory council estimated that national pharmacare would save Canadians $5 billion per year within five years. A single-payer pharmacare would empower the federal government to negotiate more effectively with drug companies and drive down the cost of prescription medicines.
“Our health care system is founded on the principle of equity – that all of us have a right to access care based on medical need, not the ability to pay,” explained Bechard. “This same principle needs to be applied to prescription medications.”
“It’s time to address this gap in Canada’s Medicare system that leaves so many Canadians with inadequate care.”
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For more information or to schedule a media interview please contact:
Ben René, Communications Officer, Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions
613-406-5962 or [email protected]
Katie Arnup, Executive Director, Canadian Doctors for Medicare
647-289-5205 or [email protected]
The CFNU is Canada’s largest nurses’ organization, representing nearly 200,000 nurses and student nurses, and advocating on key health priorities.
Canadian Doctors for Medicare provides a voice for Canadian physicians and medical students who want to strengthen and improve Canada's universal publicly-funded health care system. CDM advocates for innovations in treatment and prevention services that are evidence-based and improve access, quality, equity and sustainability.