Madam Speaker, first I want to thank my hon. colleague for splitting his time and thank him for his excitement about me speaking. I am honestly in awe of his speech. He spoke eloquently and made it so clear how this is sensible and straightforward.
In Canada, we have a universal health care system and it is a source of pride for many people in our country, especially when we look south at the inequalities in the U.S. private health care system. Everyone should be able to access health care. It is not just for the people who can afford it. Health care is a fundamental human right.
However, Canada, as has been mentioned before, is the only industrialized country with a so-called universal health care system that does not include universal comprehensive public coverage for prescription medications. When it comes to medications, we are actually more similar to the U.S. than we are different. One out of every five Canadians is not taking their medication because they cannot afford it. Many Canadians are cutting their pills in half or even skipping their medication completely. Too many Canadians are ending up in the ER and in hospitals for longer stays because they cannot afford the essential prescriptions that they need. Hundreds have died prematurely every year.
Even people with private drug coverage have been seeing their employer benefits shrink, finding themselves working in more precarious jobs and feeling the squeeze on their family budget. Out of the three million Canadians who cannot afford their medication, 38% of those are on private insurance, but that private insurance does not actually cover enough of their costs and 21% have some form of public insurance that does not fully cover their costs.
Canada's currently fragmented, patchwork system of drug coverage, where each province is offering different levels of coverage with more than 100 public and more than 100,000 private drug insurance plans, is not working for Canadians. This patchwork system is also one of the main reasons why as a country we are consistently paying among the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs. Why is this allowed to occur when it does not make sense for Canadians?
The Liberals have been promising pharmacare for 23 years over and over again, but instead of delivering on that promise to Canadians, they have been helping deliver bigger and bigger profits to pharmaceutical and insurance companies. We recently found out that a so-called national pharmacare working group was sponsored by some of the biggest pharmaceutical and insurance companies in the world. We know that these pharmaceutical companies have been lobbying pretty effectively against single-payer pharmacare. A truly universal pharmacare system is not in the interest of these multinational corporations, but it is in the interest of hard-working Canadians. It is in the interest of small businesses and start-ups.
The federal government's own expert panel found that a universal single-payer system would save businesses over $600 per year, per employee. It would also particularly help small businesses and start-ups currently unable to afford employee drug coverage since it not only removes financial burdens from these businesses, but it also boosts productivity and results in fewer sick days.
It is in the interest of Canadians and small businesses. Health experts say that this is the way to go, but it is not in the interest of big pharmaceutical lobbyists. Who is the government going to listen to? For 23 years, over and over again, each time the Liberals say they are going to look out for Canadians, they turn around and look out for multinational pharmaceutical corporations. Last year, they promised pharmacare again, but they have taken no concrete action to make it happen.
In order to establish universal public pharmacare across Canada, Parliament must pass enabling legislation and the federal government must negotiate transfers with the provinces and territories, yet the Liberal government has remained silent on these foundational steps. Despite campaigning on pharmacare last fall, it has not committed to a truly universal single-payer system as recommended by its own Hoskins report. It also has not provided any timelines for implementation.
People are struggling now and they need action now. A resident of Victoria shared with me that he is on a disability pension and he spends about $100 a month on prescription medication. He knows he should be eating healthier food to complement his medication, but he is struggling to afford both.
This choice is all too common, choosing between essential medication and life's basic necessities. This is a choice that people should never have to make. The government has an opportunity to remedy this. The NDP is introducing this motion and, if passed, if we established a Canadian pharmacare act and provided the first steps in making universal pharmacare a reality, we could address the concerns of this resident and the many Canadians who are struggling to pay for essential medication.
Yesterday, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Once implemented, a pharmacare plan would be free for Canadians, it would make emergency wait times shorter, free up hospital beds and save the government $4.2 billion. Countries around the world are facing the possibility of having their health care systems overwhelmed. Now more than ever we need to make sure that ER wait times are shorter and that we have free hospital beds for those who really need them. We need to make sure that Canadians have access to the services that they depend on.
Canadians are struggling to access medication, and they are struggling with affordability of housing, food, dental care and child care. It is hard to make ends meet while everything is getting so expensive. This plan would save Canadians an average of $500 a year, and it would save employers $600 a year or more per insured worker.
I heard from so many of my community members who struggle to afford their medication, and I promised that I would fight for them. I promised that I would fight to take the next big step for our country with a truly universal, public, single-payer pharmacare system.
Like so many, when we are talking about health care and the cost of medication, it feels personal. My dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer just over 10 years ago. At the time, the doctors told him that he had about nine months and that he should be preparing his family. At the time, he joked and said that the downside was that he had cancer so bad that they could not do anything for him. The upside was that he had cancer so bad that they could not do anything for him. Luckily they did. He was put on an experimental clinical trial with an experimental treatment of calcium flushes for the bone cancer, and he is still with us today. He still has cancer, and his medication costs have fluctuated over the years, sometimes totalling $3,000 a month. Thankfully, most of it is covered.
If members could not already tell, my dad has a dark sense of humour, like many cancer survivors. He joked with me a few months ago that, thank God he has terminal cancer so that his medication is covered. However, there is a sad seed of truth in that. Many people in our country are struggling to pay for essential medication. Nobody should have to make the choice between food and medication, between paying for their rent and keeping a roof over their head and paying for their prescriptions. We need a government that is truly committed to universal pharmacare, not one that is trying use a hodgepodge of pharmacare promises, a patchwork system and more empty words to signal to voters that they are still progressive.
Adding medication to our national health care plan cannot be another broken Liberal promise. It cannot be, “Maybe someday we'll get around to it.” This is about life and death, and we need a government that understands that. We need to think boldly again, and we need to do the hard work to continue to build a country that we can be proud of, a Canada where people have access to the services they need when they need them, where nobody is making these impossible choices, and where politicians understand that these issues are personal to so many Canadians.
To me, fighting for that Canada, it is personal. We need courageous action from our elected officials, so I urge each colleague to support the Canadian pharmacare act because it is the right thing to do for constituents. It is my hope—