By Hassan Yussuff, as published in The Hill Times.
In the next few weeks the Minister of Finance will rise in the house and give a speech laying out the government’s budget priorities for the next year.
National pharmacare must be at the top of that list.
The three parties who promised pharmacare won a majority of the vote in October 2019. These three parties, together, now hold the majority in the House of Commons, which means they now hold the power to change the lives of millions of Canadians.
With a plan and appropriate funding, Parliament has the opportunity to make history and completely realign the way prescription medication is delivered and paid for in Canada.
The Hoskins report laid out the plan that will allow this government to implement pharmacare that is universal, comprehensive, accessible, portable and public, including investments to start the process.
The report detailed investments that must be made to begin the process of pharmacare – investments this government has indicated they are prepared to make. Now it is up to Parliament to set the standards for national pharmacare, using the Hoskins report as their guide.
In this year’s budget, we are asking the federal government to invest in phase 1 of the Hoskins report. This would mean that essential medicines would be accessible to all Canadians. A meaningful start.
Anything less risks putting us behind schedule for implementing this essential new program.
The Prime Minister has shown political will by including pharmacare in the mandate letters to four different ministers. It is clear that the federal government and cabinet have their marching orders to work with the opposition, as well as the provinces and territories, to get this right.
Working Canadians are depending on progress, and with the help of the opposition, our members are sure it can be achieved in Budget 2020.
This Tuesday, hundreds of union activists from across the country will meet with parliamentarians to share the expectations they have for national, universal pharmacare. They’ll bring stories about what these changes will mean to constituents, and they’ll be asking all parties to make them a reality.
They will remind MPs and Senators that multiple reports, including one from their own Parliamentary Budget Officer and another from the Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare – set up by this Prime Minister – have shown that universal pharmacare will save federal, provincial and territorial governments billions of dollars.
They will remind them that Canada is the only developed country that has a universal health care program that doesn’t include universal coverage for prescription medication.
The experts stand behind national, universal pharmacare and the public does too. Polls show that 90 per cent of Canadians support a national pharmacare program that provides equal access to prescription drugs, regardless of income.
These union activists will bring the voices of their coworkers, family, friends and neighbours to Ottawa to remind MPs that a majority of Canadians voted for candidates that support pharmacare.
Canada’s unions are not only speaking for the more than 300 activists on the Hill. We are not only speaking for the 3 million workers our affiliates represent. We are speaking for one-third of working Canadians who don’t have employer-funded drug coverage. We are speaking for the one in four households who have seen family members ration or fail to take prescribed medication because of the costs.
Fundamentally, this is not right. It is our belief that anyone with a health card should have access to the medications they need to live.
Parliament is set up to usher in big change.
It’s time to get down to work and improve the lives of millions of Canadians. It’s time for this government to implement national, universal pharmacare.
It’s time for pharmacare.
Hassan Yussuff is the president of the Canadian Labour Congress. Follow him on Twitter @Hassan_Yussuff