House votes down NDP motion calling for national pharmacare

Kyle Duggan

 Kyle Duggan

iPolitics

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017

The House of Commons has voted down an NDP motion calling for the federal government to start negotiating with the provinces by October next year to set up a national pharmacare program.

It’s an area the NDP hopes to turn into a political pressure point for the Liberal government.

MPs shot down the motion Tuesday evening, voting 246 to 43. It was proposed earlier this month by NDP health critic Don Davies after a report by the Parliamentary Budget Officer suggested Canadians would save roughly $4 billion in drug spending under a national pharmacare program.

Conservative and Liberal MPs had raised concerns about logistics and what the potential cost-burden could be to the federal government, and that it would be premature at this point to immediately launch into pharmacare negotiations with the provinces.

Net costs for the program were projected in the PBO’s report to run at about $19 billion for the federal government at the outset – then increasing to $22.6 billion by fiscal year 2020–2021. Those figures don’t include the program’s initial set up costs.

“If the federal government is to look after this program, where is the money coming from?” Conservative MP Jim Eglinski asked during the debate on the motion at the beginning of the month.

“The NDP members support the stopping of oil and gas production in Canada. Where do they think the money is going to come from to pay for these programs?”

Davies responded that it would ultimately work out to a net savings for Canadians.

“I would rather pay $20 billion in this country for pharmaceuticals and cover everybody than pay $24 billion and leave 20 per cent of Canadians not covered,” he said.

Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor has argued that the federal government should first work to improve the existing prescription drug system “before we begin discussions on the national medicare program.”

Liberal MP Bill Casey, who chairs the parliamentary health committee, had said that while he leans toward supporting a pharmacare program, the committee has not yet finished its study on a national pharmacare program.

He said Davies’ motion would have jumped too far ahead of that process.

“He wants us to go ahead with just part of the information,” Casey said on October 5. “We have not finished the report. We have not drawn our conclusions. We have not reported back to the House … we are not ready to go ahead with this.”

At the Standing Committee on Health Tuesday, PBO officials emphasized that their projected figures are just ballpark numbers which could change significantly depending on a range of factors and program implementation choices.

The PBO was tasked by the health committee to do the study and base it on Quebec’s formulary.

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