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In fall 2007, the Canadian Health Coalition held public hearings in communities across Canada. Over 250 Canadians gave testimony on how prescription drug costs affect them and their loved ones.

In a report released Dec.2, entitled Life Before Pharmacare, Canadians share their experiences and insights on prescription drug costs, availability and effectiveness.

The burden of a loved one being sick in front of you and going down with dementia is enough. Last year we were $6000 in debt with drug bills. Now we are faced with losing our home. We both worked hard all our lives and I don’t think that’s right,” said one retiree in Sarnia, Ontario.

CUPE, a CHC member and a sponsor of the hearings, is interested in the challenges unionized workers face in negotiating drug coverage. Many unionized workers who appeared at the hearings described how their employers were dealing with increasing drug costs by pressing hard in negotiations to pass on the costs to them.

CUPE Saskatchewan President Tom Graham, who provided a written testimony, pointed out that extended health benefit plans are not only more expensive than a single public plan, but they also create terrible inequities in the workforce. For example, some of the poorest-paid workers in the public sector don’t have any drug plan coverage.

Too many Canadians are falling through the cracks. Now is the time for coordinated government action on a universal public drug plan,” said Kathleen Connors, CHC Chairperson.

Canada currently has a patchwork of private and public plans so full of holes that comprehensive drug coverage is not a reality for most. The result is an inequity reminiscent of the days before Medicare where people who can afford to pay for medications get them, and those who can’t, don’t.

The report concludes that a universal public drug plan, cost-shared by federal and provincial/territorial governments and employers, and administered by provinces and territories, would result in better quality care and reduced costs.

Life Before Pharmacare is published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.