CUPE has long advocated for a national, public, and universal pharmacare plan. But that’s not what was delivered in Budget 2018.

We know that pharmacare makes economic sense. In September 2017, the Parliamentary Budget Officer showed that a national pharmacare plan would reduce spending on prescription drugs in Canada by at least $4.2 billion annually. It would also mean that the 3.5 million Canadians who can’t afford the medications they need would no longer have to choose between paying for rent and groceries or medications.

Prior to the release of the 2018 budget, the federal government announced it would create a new advisory council to consult and lay out options for a new, national pharmacare plan. With Eric Hoskins, the former Ontario health minister and a long-time advocate for national pharmacare appointed to chair the council, this announcement initially appeared very promising to CUPE members fighting for a national pharmacare plan.

No funding or timeline

But the federal budget did not commit any financial resources to the council and didn’t indicate when it’s expected to complete its work. Decades of research, consultations, Royal Commissions, and parliamentary studies have already recommended a national pharmacare plan for Canada. We don’t need more consultations and studies.

What’s worse is that, before the terms of reference for the council were even disclosed, Finance Minister Bill Morneau said the advisory council won’t be looking at how to best implement a universal pharmacare plan. Instead, he said we can expect the council to maintain our current patchwork system of prescription drug coverage while looking at developing a strategy to fill in gaps in the system.

Given that nine out of 10 Canadians already believe it’s time for a universal pharmacare plan, this is a significant betrayal of the public interest.

While many workers have health care benefits that include drug coverage, many insurance plans don’t provide full coverage for prescription medications. Workers are left paying deductibles they often can’t afford. Under Morneau’s proposed plan these workers wouldn’t receive any extra coverage to make up the difference, since they’re already partially covered under a private plan.

Pharmacare must include everyone

CUPE strongly opposes Morneau’s proposal. We believe all Canadians should be included in a national pharmacare plan. No one should be left out.

We need a plan for everyone that is publicly funded and administered and includes all safe and effective medications.

What we don’t need is a “strategy” that puts the for-profit interests of private insurance and pharmaceutical companies ahead of the public interest. But this is exactly what a “strategy” like Morneau’s threatens to do. For CUPE and our members, the health care interests of Canadians must come before those of private profits.

A national, public, and universal pharmacare plan is possible. Now’s the time for the federal government to harness the political will to figure out how it should be implemented and make it a reality. Let’s hope Dr. Hoskins agrees.