In Tuesday's budget, the Liberals announced the beginnings of a national pharmacare program. But, later in the week, Bill Morneau told the Economic Club of Canada, "We need a strategy … that deals with the gaps but doesn’t throw out the system that we currently have.”
That gap is glaringly apparent here in Ontario, as well as other provinces. Tom Walkom writes:
In Ontario, those under 25 have publicly funded access to necessary drugs. Except for welfare recipients, those between 25 and 65 do not.
Most provinces have some kind of catastrophic drug coverage. But only those who must spend vast chunks of their income on pharmaceuticals qualify.
In short, the Canadian drug system is unnecessarily complicated and not very fair. It is also unnecessarily expensive — in part because the administrative costs associated with private insurance are high and in part because the drug companies can get away with charging exorbitant prices.
Pharmacare -- like medicare -- must be a universal program. There are good reasons for making it universal:
It is like medicare in this and offers the same advantages — including the efficiencies of a single-pay system. It costs governments money but creates savings for everyone else.
Study after study calculates that — as with medicare — the savings outweigh the costs.
But it seems to take time for that fact to sink in. Consider the history of medicare:
When Canadian medicare was being debated in the 1960's, a similar division arose between those who wanted a full scale universal program and those who, like Morneau today, merely wanted to fill the gaps.
The gap-fillers were tenacious. Ontario Premier John Robarts, a Conservative, refused to bring his province into medicare until 1969. Alberta didn’t join until then-premier Ernest Manning, a fierce opponent of universal social programs, retired.
It looks like it will be awhile before we see phramacare.
Image: Jacques Boissinot - Canadian Press