Jenny in the House: The Dream of a National Pharmacare Program

On October 5, 2017, Jenny rose to speak of a National Pharmacare Program:

Jenny Kwan (NDP) Vancouver East, BC

"Mr. Speaker, I am honoured today to rise in the House to speak in support of the motion tabled by my colleague, the member for Vancouver Kingsway, a tireless advocate for not just maintaining but improving Canada's public health care system, and in this case pharmacare specifically.

As my colleague mentioned today, New Democrats champion public health care while Liberal governments need to be dragged forward to make any progress. That is nothing new.

It was a former leader of the New Democratic Party who championed and pushed for public health care, first in Saskatchewan and then nationally, making access to health care a basic right for Canadians for generations to come.

To quote the greatest Canadian, Tommy Douglas, “I came to believe that health services ought not to have a price-tag on them, and that people should be able to get whatever health services they required irrespective of their individual capacity to pay.”

It is well known that the universal health care dream extended well beyond where universal access to care is today and that much more work remains to be done.

I quoted our former leader to highlight the New Democratic roots, our principles, and the battles we have been fighting to improve the lives of Canadians for years.

I say that this issue is important not only for New Democrats but for all Canadians, no matter what their political stripe.

I also quote in light of the election of our new NDP leader, someone who embodies these principles and who will continue this fight with love and courage. To quote our new leader, Jagmeet Singh, “I believe in social democratic values, universal social programs like health care, but expanding them into more universal services like pharmacare and dental care.”

When we are discussing the merits of extending universal access to health care services such as pharmacare, it is important to keep in mind that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Prescription drugs play a vital role in Canada's health care system, whether that is in treatment for an illness, recovery from an illness or medical intervention, or maintenance of a condition to ensure quality of life.

As we have heard throughout this debate from many members—and I could unfortunately quite easily fill up my time with constituent stories that have been brought to me—the cost of prescription drugs in Canada far too often leads to prescriptions not being filled or to unjust sacrifices being made to fill them.

I challenge anyone in the House to stand up and say that they have never met a constituent—or any individual, for that matter—who could not afford to buy his or her medication. I challenge anyone in the House to stand up and say that they have never heard a story of someone, a senior in particular, who could not afford to buy medication or that pills were cut in half or that a day was skipped in order to stretch the medication. I have met seniors who have told me that they are eating cat food so they can save money to buy medication.

The parliamentary budget officer's report cited data that shows costs related to non-adherence to prescription regimes ranged from 7% to 17% across the provinces.

Can we imagine how many thousands of Canadians are not taking their medication because they cannot afford to do it? A 2015 Angus Reid Institute poll found that some 29% of B.C. households reported that they did not take medications as directed because of cost. That is in my home province of British Columbia.

People who do not take their medicine because they cannot afford it is a big deal. People die from not being able to afford their medication.

A 2012 study estimated that inequities in drug coverage for working-age Ontarians with diabetes could be linked to 5,000 deaths from 2002 to 2008 alone. This problem is not restricted to any one province. It is a problem across the country.

It is important to keep in mind that it has an impact on the health care system as well.

A 2014 paper by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found that studies suggested that some 6.5% of hospital admissions are the result of people not following their medication regime. It estimates that this represents a price tag to Canada of some $7 billion to $9 billion per year. Therefore, to all our Conservative friends who say that we cannot afford to do this, I say to them that we absolutely need to do it. What we cannot afford is to not do this and not bring forward a universal pharmacare program. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Ensuring that Canadians are able to take the prescription drugs they need to maintain their health will have positive impacts on many areas of Canadian society, be that increased productivity because people are healthier, fewer emergency room visits, or fewer entirely preventable emergency medical interventions, just to name a few.

If member had a loved one, a family member, or a friend who could not afford their medication, and as a result their health was deteriorating, how would they feel about that? Worse yet, if they lost their life because of it, how would they feel about that?

This is what we ran for office to do. It was to make that change, and we can do something about it right here, right now, in this chamber, which is what this motion is all about.

According to the World Health Organization, Canada continues to remain the only high-income country with a universal health care system that does not provide for universal coverage of prescription drugs. What is wrong with this picture? Instead, Canada currently has over 100 private and public drug programs. This fragmented approach limits our negotiating power. My colleagues have talked about the impacts of this situation and what it means financially. Frankly, it does not make any sense. It makes no sense for the individual, Canadians on the whole, and it does not make sense for our economy.

I have heard Liberals try to say that somehow we cannot do this, because there is a study going on. Well, I hope that the government can walk and chew gum at the same time. I hope that the minister actually has the wherewithal to pick up the parliamentary budget officer's report, read it, understand what it means, and send staff to do the analysis around it. I hope that the minister will think far enough forward to realize that negotiating a deal with the provinces and territories will take more time than the government seems to think it is going to take, and that we need to get on with it yesterday.

My colleague, the member for New Westminster—Burnaby, said that there have been reports done on this issue. Even before I was born, back in 1964, there was a report, and successively there have been royal commissions on it. How many more studies do we need? How much more evidence do we need?

I put this to the government side: have the courage. The Liberals say that they have the love in their hearts; then demonstrate it with courage and vote for this motion. Let us get on with it so that people like Jim, who is sitting not far from this chamber, have hope in knowing that the people who are representing them will have the courage and the love to act. That is what I am calling for."

 

https://openparliament.ca/debates/2017/10/5/jenny-kwan-3/

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