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SASKATOON: CUPE Saskatchewan President Tom Graham commends the NDP’s election promise to implement a universal drug plan, saying it will benefit thousands of CUPE members and other people in the province who currently have no drug plan coverage or limited coverage.

A universal public drug plan is a tremendous way to improve people’s lives and ensure that everyone benefits from Saskatchewan’s new-found wealth,” says Graham, noting prescription drugs are an essential part of health care.

Establishing a public drug plan is absolutely no different than our universal health plan,” he states. “We know from experience that it will be far more equitable and cost-effective than a privately delivered system.”

In contrast to SaskParty leader Brad Wall’s statement yesterday that the NDP’s drug plan is “fixing a problem that doesn’t exist,” Graham says the rising cost of prescription drugs is a huge issue for most working people and their families.

Most of us know someone who is not taking their medications because they can’t afford them,” he says. “That’s a serious problem that a universal drug plan will solve.”

He also says the drug plan will make workplaces and communities more equitable and that’s important because the gap between the people at the top of the pay scale and those at the bottom extends to benefit coverage.

Teachers working in K-12 education have 100% employer-paid drug coverage through their extended health benefits plan. “But about 40 per cent of our 6,400 members in K-12 education – teacher associates, caretakers, secretaries, and others – either pay half the cost of benefit premiums or have no coverage at all. How is that fair that the people who earn the least pay the most?”

Similarly, the University of Saskatchewan provides 100% coverage up to $2,000 a year for professors and other faculty association members, but it only provides 80% coverage up to $500 a year for CUPE 1975 members and nothing at all for those who work casual hours – the most exploited group at the university, he says.

Since drug claims represent about 70 per cent of the cost of workplace extended health benefit plans, improving or maintaining these plans is a priority issue at nearly every bargaining table. And it’s often a key reason union members are prepared to strike, he adds.

The current round of contract negotiations involving CUPE 1975 is a case in point. CUPE 1975 members at the U of S and University of Regina voted 89% in support of job action last month; the maintenance of benefits is a key issue at the bargaining table.

Graham notes the provincial government currently pays the premiums for many public sector plans delivered by private-insurance companies. The implementation of the universal drug plan (with its single payer system and bulk buying) will not only reduce costs for both public and private sector employers, but also ensure everyone benefits – just like medicare, he states.

- 30 - For more information contact: Tom Graham at 229-8171