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By Pat Van Horne, USW member of the CHC Board of Directors

The Canadian Health Coalition’s long-standing campaign for national pharmacare is being echoed by prominent physicians, academics and politicians across Canada, including former Federal Health Minister, Dr. Jane Philpott.

In the midst of the health crisis of our generation, Dr. Philpott added her name to a petition signed by 1,000 experts which was sent to Canada’s Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, and Minister of Health, saying Canadians should not have to wait for a universal and comprehensive public pharmacare program.

The timeline is not fast enough for Canadians unable to pay for medicines that should be part of any rationally designed health care system


The list of signatures includes CHC Board members Pauline Worsfold, RN, Michele Brill-Edwards, MD, Joel Lexchin, MD, and Pat Armstrong, PhD.

Writing in the Toronto Star about the importance of the petition, Jane Philpott and Danielle Martin, Chair of Canadian Doctors for Medicare, say Canadians should be appalled by how much time is spent every day by doctors, nurses, pharmacists and others working around the lack of real drug coverage in Canada.

Doctors have to ask if patients have any drug coverage

“As medical educators, we teach new physicians to ask if the patient has insurance; to call local pharmacies to do a price comparison; to ask whether people are splitting pills, or skipping them to save money; to negotiate ‘compassionate access’ with pharmaceutical companies; and the list goes on,” they said.

They cited a 2020 study that showed nearly one-quarter of Canadians reported not filling a prescription due to cost.

The doctors believe Canadians need access to necessary medicines and protection against related financial strain. They agree that bulk-buying power means a universal, public drug plan can not only meet those needs, but can also save Canada $5-billion per year.

“In medical schools across Canada, we teach learners to make prescribing decisions based on scientific evidence, which includes avoiding potentially inappropriate prescribing, especially for older people,” they said. “It includes prescribing cost-effective options. It includes watching for side effects and monitoring for rare adverse reactions to drugs.

“A well-designed pharmacare program would help to support all these goals, encouraging high-quality prescribing in ways that a patchwork of private plans will never do.”

Make it so before the end of 2022

As stated in the petition, Philpott and Martin call for advancing the timing and scope of Canada’s plans – starting with universal, public coverage of essential medications before the end of 2022. Meanwhile, the government has promised to pass a Canada Pharmacare Act in 2023, a year later.

“That’s progress, but the timeline is not fast enough for Canadians unable to pay for medicines that should be part of any rationally designed health care system,” said the two doctors.

“Canadians and the health care workers who serve them desire — and deserve — a health-care system that does not abandon patients the moment they receive a prescription. The time for commissions, studies and reports must be behind us. When it comes to national pharmacare, there is no time like the present.”

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