News / Vancouver

Lack of pharmacare funds in federal budget disappoints health groups

Despite being touted as a 'equality and growth' fiscal plan — and a high-profile appointment this week to look at a universal prescription program — advocates had hoped for more than an olive branch

A variety of medications in a photo illustration. (David P. Ball / Metro)

David P. Ball / Metro

A variety of medications in a photo illustration. (David P. Ball / Metro)

If it wasn't Ottawa naming ex-Ontario health minister Eric Hoskins to head a new Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare, perhaps it was the Liberals' own upcoming vote on universal drug coverage at their April party convention that got health advocates' hopes up Tuesday.

Instead, the $3.6-billion budget spending this fiscal year included no new funding to help Canadians struggling to pay for medications, long an expensive thorn in the side of universal medicare proponents.

The Liberals "real change" election platform in 2015 didn't pledge such a program, despite years of successful policy motions to that effect within the party; instead they promised to "improve access to necessary prescription medications."

"We are proud of our public health care system," noted health minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor in a tweet Tuesday, unveiling the new advisory committee, "but we can’t accept that over one million Canadians are forced to give up food and heat to afford the medication they need."

Vancouver-based New Democrat health critic Don Davies said creating yet another committee to study and consult falls far short.

"We've had royal commissions, peer-reviewed studies, a Senate report, a (Parliamentary Budget Officer) costing, and soon we'll have the final report of the Health Committee's two-year consultation on implementing pharmacare for all," the Vancouver-Kingsway MP tweeted. "Canadians don't need another study, we need action.

"… And note: just a few months ago, the Liberals voted AGAINST the NDP motion to start negotiations with the provinces for pharmacare."

Nonetheless, pharmacare appears to be on the horizon with the new advisory council, and last fall the Parliamentary Budget Officer calculated that Canadians who lack prescription insurance coverage fork over more than $4 billion a year for their meds.

But the PBO also cautioned that a universal plan to fix that gap could cost as much as $19 billion a year.

"I can't wait to see where anyone in government thinks they're going to find that much money," said Canadian Taxpayers Federation head Aaron Wudrick ‏on Twitter.

The Liberals' national caucus co-sponsored a pharmacare motion along with their Ontario branch for a vote at the party's Halifax convention April 19-21.

If passed, the Jan. 14 resolution would ask the Liberal government in Ottawa to add to the Canada Health Act coverage for "prescription medicines prescribed by a licensed practitioner in accordance with an established (list of covered drugs)."

It also seeks a federal-provincial deal to offer Canadians a "universal, single-payer, evidence-based, and sustainable public drug plan" starting with "essential medicines addressing priority health needs" but expanding eventually to a "comprehensive permanent plan."

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