New health minister says pharmacare legislation is coming this fall – will it help you?

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Minority governments are interesting things. Many Albertans are not used to the idea of a minority government because the province has a long history of majority governments.

In a majority government situation, a party wins a majority of the seats in an election (more than 50%) and goes on to make decisions based on the platform on which it ran. But that is not always how government works.

In a minority government situation, a party wins the most seats, but the number of seats they hold does not form a majority (more than 50% of voting elected members). This is called a minority government, and in this situation, the government needs support from other parties who won seats in the election to introduce and pass legislation.

The current federal Liberal government is a minority government.

In 2022, the NDP and Liberals came to an agreement where the NDP would support the minority Liberal government on issues of confidence (an issue where failing to pass legislation would trigger an election) so long as the Liberal government agreed to fulfill certain priorities. One of those priorities was the introduction of a universal pharmacare program.

A universal pharmacare program would be similar to Medicare, except for prescription drugs. In the same way that Canadian Medicare ensures that all Canadians have access to basic medical coverage without having to pay outrageous fees like we see in the United States, a Pharmacare program would aim to do the same thing with prescription drugs.

As indicated in the link above, the new Liberal Health Minister, Mark Holland, recently indicated that the Liberal minority government intends to table legislation to implement such a universal pharmacare program this fall.

Developments like this are part of what makes minority governments so interesting.

A majority Liberal government might not have made a priority of introducing and implementing a universal pharmacare program. But because the minority Liberal government needs support on confidence motions to avoid an election, the NDP was able to negotiate to make a universal pharmacare program a priority as a condition of its support.

Why should a universal pharmcare program be a priority?

A 2022 report by Statistics Canada indicated that the absence of such a program was creating “inequities in pharmaceutical access and use.” The report states:

In 2021, over one in every five (21%) adults in Canada reported not having any prescription insurance to cover medication costs. This lack of coverage sometimes meant delaying or skipping doses because of an inability to afford medication or paying higher out-of-pocket costs.

Statistics Canada goes on to note that seniors, immigrants, and racialized persons were more likely to report not having access to prescription drug insurance:

Canada does not have universal coverage of prescription medication, and public drug plans offered by provinces can vary greatly in terms of eligibility, affordability, and drugs covered. As a result, the share of people reporting no prescription coverage varied considerably across the provinces in 2021, ranging from a high of 26% in British Columbia to a low of 14% in Nova Scotia.

Seniors (aged 65 years and over) were among the most likely to report not having prescription insurance to cover medication costs. In 2021, 25% of seniors reported not having prescription insurance coverage compared with 18% among adults aged 25 to 64 years. A higher percentage of seniors reported having no prescription coverage in British Columbia (33%) and Manitoba (33%), while a lower percentage of seniors reported this in Alberta (9%) and Nova Scotia (11%).

Immigrants and racialized persons were also more likely to report not having prescription insurance coverage. In 2021, 29% of immigrants reported not having prescription insurance to cover medication costs, compared with just over one-sixth (17%) of non-immigrants.

Racialized persons (29%) also had a higher percentage of reporting not having prescription insurance coverage compared with those who were non-racialized and non-Indigenous (17%). Among racialized persons, West Asians (41%), Chinese (33%), and Latin Americans (32%) were the most likely to report not having prescription medication coverage.

Consequently, the implementation of a universal pharmacare program could address notable inequities in Canadian health care and serious financial challenges faced by many Canadians, particularly from more vulnerable populations.

Let us know if the implementation of a universal pharmacare program would help you and your family in the survey below.