Jenny Kwan, MP

Member of Parliament, Vancouver East

Now is our moment. Bring in universal comprehensive public single payer Pharmacare in Budget 2020!

On March 12, 2020, I gave a speech in the House on universal comprehensive public single payer Pharmacare. 

This was in support of the NDP's Motion:

March 10, 2020 — Mr. Davies (Vancouver Kingsway) — That the House: (a) acknowledge the government’s intention to introduce and implement national pharmacare; (b) call on the government to implement the full recommendations of the final report of the Hoskins Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare, commencing with the immediate initiation of multilateral negotiations with the provinces and territories to establish a new, dedicated fiscal transfer to support universal, single-payer, public pharmacare that will be long term, predictable, fair and acceptable to provinces and territories; (c) urge the government to reject the U.S.-style private patchwork approach to drug coverage, which protects the profits of big pharmaceutical and insurance companies, but costs more to Canadians; and (d) recognize that investing in national pharmacare would help stimulate the economy while making life more affordable for everyone and strengthening our health care system.

"Today we are talking about an NDP motion on something for which we have been pushing for a very long time now. That is for the government to act on bringing a universal comprehensive single-payer pharmacare system to Canadians.

    This has been a long-time dream of the NDP's. In fact, 53 years ago, Tommy Douglas brought to us medicare. This is what Canadians itemize as one of the single proudest moments in our Canadian history: to ensure that Canadians can see the doctors and get the medical services that they need. This is unlike south of the border where, in the United States people literally cannot access the medical attention that they need and people die from that situation. We are the envy of the universe. To complete that dream of Tommy Douglas', it has always the CCF and NDP's vision to bring in a comprehensive universal single-payer pharmacare program.

    We know the Liberals have said that they support this and have said this for a very long time. In fact, to be more precise, for exactly 23 years they have said that they would support it. Now we are in a situation of a minority government, so let us hope, and I hope with all of my heart, that coming out of this Parliament we will implement a universal single-payer comprehensive pharmacare system. That is what our motion is pushing for. That is what we want to see, and I believe that is what Canadians want to see.

    In fact, out of the government's own consultative process with its own council, the Hoskins report came out with 60 recommendations laying out a concise plan of how this could be achieved. The report highlights a number of things that warrant attention in this House.

    Just so we know, some 7.5 million Canadians do not have adequate prescription coverage. That is to say some 7.5 million Canadians cannot get the medication that they need. Sixteen per cent of the people in Canada went without medication for heart disease, for cholesterol or for hypertension because of cost.

    The amount of prescription-drug spending paid out of pocket in Canada in 2016 was $7.6 billion. That is a lot of money coming out of the pockets of everyday Canadians, money that they could otherwise use to support their family if there were a universal pharmacare program. The government members talk all the time about how they want to support middle-class Canadians. Implementing universal pharmacare would support every single Canadian, including middle-class Canadians.

    The people who get hit perhaps the hardest because they cannot access a pharmacare program are women. Fewer women have employer health benefits compared to men. Women are more likely to report noncompliance to their prescription medication because of costs, not because they do not want to comply but because they cannot afford it. Cost-related noncompliance is a common problem among the Indigenous community as well. Those people between 18 and 44 years old, people with lower health status and people with lower incomes often cannot access the medication that they need because they cannot afford it.

    There is no question in my mind that it is time to act. I know some members will say that we cannot proceed with this because the provinces and territories say they do not want to. One of the issues that provinces and territories have tabled and put on the record is that they need the government to ensure that the health transfer payments are kept up. If the Liberals actually wanted to do something about this and ensure the negotiations go well with provinces and territories, they would ensure the health transfer payments are actually provided.

Instead of adopting the Conservative Harper cuts to the health transfer payments, the government could say, “No, we're not going to take that path. We're not going to go down the path of the Harper Conservatives. In fact, we will fully fulfill our requirements and responsibility in the health care transfer payments”. When we do that, I would fully expect that the provinces and territories will come to the table and earnestly negotiate with the Canadian government to put in place a universal, comprehensive, single-payer pharmacare program.

    I will share a story with members.

    During the campaign, like everyone else in the House, I went door-knocking. I visited a constituent, and his story has shaken me to this day. He is a senior who just recently retired. He worked hard all of his life, paid his taxes and all of those things. As he aged, he became ill, and he has a number of complicated health conditions. His medication costs him about $1,000 a month, and that is a lot of money for a senior on a fixed income. However, he told me that he had some savings so that he could pay for this medication for a few months. Of course, his savings will run out, and then what will he do? I think he told me that his savings would run by this summer. He was very worried about what would happen when that occurred, because he would not be able to get the lifesaving medication that he needs. He said to me, “You have to go and fight for a universal pharmacare program, not just for me but for my friends and other people like me”.

     I took his words to heart, and here we are in this debate. I ask the government to support this motion before us, and then get on with it, actually fully realize this motion and put it into reality. No more excuses. No more delays. No more “I can't do this and I can't do that”. No more saying that we support it and then decades later we are still talking about it. I do not want to come back to the House to have to debate this once again. I want to see, and I think what Canadians want to see, is this program to be in place.

    This program will save lives. We know that. More importantly, or perhaps equally important, for those people who talk about money, this program will save money as well. How often do we get to do this? We can have our cake and eat it too. This is the kind of program that we are talking about. We are in a minority government situation, and it can become reality. How about we fulfill that dream? How about we end that notion that Canada is the only country in the world that has a universal medicare program without pharmacare? How about we put that to be bed once and for all, forever, by implementing universal pharmacare?

    Government members say that they want to act, but I do not want to hear the words any more; I want to see this action in the budget. In the upcoming 2020 budget, I want to see the government allocate resources to get this done.

     The Hoskins report, which I read through page-to-page last night to get the full scope of its recommendations, has 60 recommendations. It outlines very clearly, step-by-step, how we can get this done and where the savings are. The government cannot have the excuse of not having a blueprint. The government had this work done to counsel its work, and Dr. Hoskins and the team went out there and did this work. The report lays out in detail, step-by-step, of how this could be done, and so no more excuses.

     The constituent I met during the campaign is in desperate need for the government to act. People in our community are in desperate need for the government to act. For members of Parliament, especially on the Liberal side, this is our moment to make that difference, to realize the legacy that Tommy Douglas has left us to fully implement universal medicare and pharmacare."

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  • Jenny Kwan MP account
    published this page in In the House 2020-03-12 13:25:50 -0700