The subject of their excitement? The prospect of a universal pharmacare program in Canada. The topic was explored in the latest of a series of town halls organized by Erin Weir, NDP MP for Regina-Lewvan.

“I’m hearing that a lot of people can’t afford the medication they need,” said Weir. “They have to make these impossible choices between filling their fridge or filling their prescriptions.”

About 50 Regina residents attended the discussion, which was led by guest speaker Don Davies, the NDP health critic and an MP from Vancouver who used the opportunity to launch the federal NDP’s #PharmacareForAll national tour. 

“We cover every single Canadian universally through a single-payer public (health care) system,” said Davies. “All I’m talking about is expanding that basket of services to include prescription drugs, just like we cover every other essential service under medicare.”

 

In the 2018 federal budget, the Liberal government announced that an advisory council on pharmacare would be formed, but after seven studies during the past 60 years, Davies said now is the time for action, not more talk.

He said the concept is not only feasible, but “absolutely necessary and desirable,” citing an Angus Reid institute poll published in 2015 that found 91 per cent of Canadians in support of a national pharmacare program.

In a presentation made to the town hall attendees, Davies shared a number of statistics and what he described as disturbing information about Canadians, including a story about a B.C. couple sharing medication, splitting pills and taking medication every other day instead of daily as recommended by their doctor because they can’t afford to buy more.

“We’ve heard that 10 per cent of Canadians have no coverage whatsoever for pharmaceuticals. Another 10 per cent have such intermittent coverage as to effectively have none at all.” He said a universal pharmacare program would not only provide Canadians with much-needed access to medication, but save billions of dollars every year.

He highlighted five factors that he said will reduce costs:
  • streamlining into a single administration system;
  • buying medication in bulk;
  • developing an evidence-based formulary (a list of what medications would be covered);
  • exclusive bargaining arrangements with drug companies;
  • eliminating cost-related non-adherence costs (the costs to treat people admitted to hospital because they weren’t taking their medication due to lack of money).

He said there is also overwhelming support from stakeholders including private insurance and drug companies.

While most in attendance seemed on board with the idea, not everyone was convinced it’s as easy as it sounds.

“I was happy, but somewhat surprised when you mention that some of the drug companies would be behind this. I’m trying to get my head around that … what’s in it for the drug companies? Why would they buy into this?” queried a older gentleman in attendance.

Davies said while he can’t speak for the drug companies, he speculated that they may see universal pharmacare as a way to expand their market, reaching people who couldn’t afford to pay for medication before.

“Nothing is free,” said another concerned citizen. “Taxpayers ultimately pay for this and I think one of the things that we have to address is how do we raise the revenue?”

Davies said it doesn’t require more money, but simply a reorganization of who’s paying for prescription medication already.

“It would require the federal government to say to the corporate sector, ‘Look, you’re paying now for it, privately. We’re going to redirect that money into the federal government,’ ” said Davies.

Others worried about how to simply convince the government to change the status quo. Davies pointed to the trendsetting history of the province.

“Maybe it’s going to take a province, like we did with medicare, bringing it in on a provincial level, making it work … and then of course it will spread,” said Davies.

jackerman@postmedia.com