The Toronto Star published a letter from 331 health professionals and academics to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on November 17, urging him to put Pharmacare at the top of the Canadian health care agenda. Several CNDC supporters signed the letter, reminding the prime minister that ‘Pharmacare is the unfinished business of the Canadian healthcare system.’
The letter reads:
Dear Prime Minister Trudeau:
Congratulations on becoming Canada’s 23rd prime minister.
Over the course of the election campaign and in the weeks following your victory, there have been many important discussions about Canadian identity and our core values. Among the values that Canadians most support in poll after poll are those embodied in our medicare system: particularly, a belief that all residents of Canada should have access to quality health care.
We are health professionals and health policy researchers concerned, as you are, with the state of Canada’s universal health care system. Soon, your government will be engaging Canada’s premiers and ministers of health in discussions about a new health accord. We hope universal pharmacare will be at the top of your agenda for those discussions.
Pharmaceuticals are so essential to health and well-being that the World Health Organization has declared that all nations should ensure universal access to necessary medicines. Consistent with that recommendation, every developed country with a universal health care system provides universal coverage of medically necessary prescriptions except Canada.
Unlike any comparable country, Canada’s universal public health care system effectively ends as soon as a patient is handed a prescription to fill.
Millions of Canadians have no drug coverage at all and millions more have coverage that is inadequate to ensure access to medicines. As a result, almost one quarter of Canadians report they or members of their household have not taken medicines as prescribed because of costs.
It is well documented that financial barriers to necessary medicines result in worse health for patients. They also result in unnecessary increases in the use of hospital and medical care.
National standards for universal coverage of medically necessary prescription drugs would therefore satisfy a central goal of pharmaceutical policy: ensuring all Canadians have equitable access to necessary care.
Instituting such standards would bring Canada up to par in the developed world. Guided by best available evidence, such coverage would also foster safer, more appropriate use of medicines – potentially making Canada a world leader in the quality of medicine use.
Ensuring universal access to medically necessary prescription drugs is not only the ethical thing to do, it can also be the economically responsible thing to do. Research shows that a universal, public pharmacare system – one coordinated across provinces in ways similar to how federal, provincial, and territorial governments purchase vaccines and blood supply products – would achieve equity of access goals while saving Canadians between $4 billion and $11 billion per year.
Indeed, comparable countries that integrate drug coverage into their universal, public health care system achieve more equitable access to medicines at far lower total cost than Canada spends on our system today.
Canadians support public coverage for medicines of proven value-for-money in our health care system. A recent national survey by the Angus Reid Institute found that a vast majority of Canadians (87 per cent) support adding prescription medicines to Canadian medicare. This support exists “across the board” in terms of regions, age groups, incomes, and education levels. Universal, public pharmacare is also supported by health professions, unions, policy experts, businesses, citizens groups, health charities, health executives, municipalities, and provincial governments.
Your campaign promised a better Canada including a federal government that will not let problems of the past persist when there is an opportunity to improve the lives of Canadians.
Pharmacare is the unfinished business of the Canadian healthcare system. Your government is in the fortunate position to expand medicare’s public mandate to include prescription drugs, and ensure a sunnier future for all Canadians as a result. You can count on our support as you plan a course for doing so.
The full letter in English and French and including the list of signatories, is available as a PDF.