Mr. Speaker, today I will be splitting my time with the member for Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke.
I am really happy to be here today in the House talking about something that is so important to so many Canadians across this beautiful country. I am going to ask lenience from the Chair to wish my grandson a happy fifth birthday. Today, Shoshonne will be five. I was there when he came into the world and every birthday that I am not with him I am always a little sad. I want him to know that his Chi-chia loves him very much and wishes so much that I was with him today.
One of my mentors was the late Maya Angelou and she said, “When we know better, we do better.” When I think about the discussion we are having today on a national universal pharmacare program, I cannot help but think that we have known better for a very long time in this country and it is rather devastating that we are still having this conversation. In fact, we are the only country with a universal health care program that does not have the partnership with the universal pharmacare program and that is very concerning for myself and for many of the people that I represent in North Island—Powell River.
When I look at the history of this place, universal public drug coverage has been recommended by commissions, committees and advisory councils dating as far back as the 1940s and here we are in 2020 still having this debate when people are struggling every day in this country to afford medication that they need to survive. We know that in our country, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, people are dying because they cannot afford their medication. That is the type of isolation and pain that a family has to face that I cannot imagine. I am really shocked that we are still here having this debate like it is something we should be discussing instead of something we should simply be acting on.
The Hoskins report, which the Liberal government sponsored, was very clear. I do not know what else is really needed here, but here we are having this discussion again. The Hoskins report said a universal, comprehensive, public pharmacare program would reduce annual system-wide spending on prescription drugs. It would lower drug costs. It is something that is so important. I think of the many constituents who have come to me and talked about their personal reality. When we have an opportunity to do better for Canadians, I hope that everyone in the House will support this motion so that we can take that action.
In my opinion, pharmacare should follow the same basic principles that are the bedrock of our public health care system: universality, comprehensiveness, accessibility, portability and public administration. It just makes sense.
Once implemented, a pharmacare plan would make medication free for Canadians and there are a lot of constituents who cannot imagine a world without that financial burden, without the constant stress of worrying about how they are going to pay for their loved one's medications. I talked to family groups that are collaboratively coming together every month to put down the little that they have to buy medication for somebody in their family who is struggling with health concerns.
When we look at the system, we also know that it will have an impact on our emergency wait times because people will actually be taking the medication they need so that they do not have to go to the emergency wait lines all the time. It would free up more hospital beds for those who need them. People who need medications and cannot afford them should not have to be in those beds. They should be given the medication they need and not have to access the service. They deserve a better life than that.
We also know it would save governments more than $4 billion a year. Basically, after what the Hoskins report clearly stated, this is really a choice for the government to choose a system that will put Canadians first and will make sure that the health care and the well-being of Canadians is top of front and centre, or we will continue to have a system that largely benefits big pharma and the insurance industry.
In my riding of North Island—Powell River, we have a lot of rural and remote communities and a lot of people with differing experiences. The stories that I hear from each corner of the riding always make me concerned and I carry those stories with me.
I remember one woman who talked about her health care issue. She told me her family worked together so that she could buy a van. She needed the van because she could not afford rent. Her plan was to live in the van and then she would be able to afford her medication on her very limited income. She was worried about what it would be like in the winter. She had been living in her van for months, but it was the warmer months and she did not know what would happen when it got really cold.
This is Canada and this is a decision one of the people who lives in this country has to make.
I talked to a senior woman in my riding who lives in one of the northern parts, so it is a little bit more chilly during the winter. She talked about how every January and February she turns down the heat and has to wear extra sweaters and gloves in her house because she simply cannot afford the higher cost of heat, as well as her medication at the same time.
When I think of the people who built our country, the seniors of this country, asking them to do this just does not seem right to me.
I also have a constituent in the riding who has a very serious health issue that requires him to wear compression socks and he needs medication to keep him alive. The medication costs $70 per month and at this time he is only able to afford the medication, so he cannot afford to buy the compression stockings as well. This has gone on for several months. The family is really worried that he is going to end up in a hospital. Their frustration is that for the price of some compression socks why it is that he has to potentially spend time in the hospital? Where is the help? Where is the support?
Another woman named Ann in my riding spoke to us and said that she is a diabetic. Every month, the cost for her is $174 for the medication that she requires simply to stay alive. She will be 60 years old in June and she has no plans to retire because she cannot figure out any other way to afford her medication. It concerns her that it is different in every province. When she lived in Alberta, this expense was covered, but now that she is in B.C., it is not. I have heard this from young people as well with diabetes, who talk about the different services that they get in each part of this country.
We need to start looking at this because if we are going to have a universal health care system, as well as, hopefully soon, a universal pharmacare program, it really is devastating to think that some people get treated in some provinces and territories and they do not in others. That does not seem right to me if we want a universal system.
One in five Canadian households have reported a family member who, in the past year, has not taken prescribed medication due to cost. We know that after continuous cuts by the Liberal and Conservative governments, we have seen that less and less money going to the provinces for health care. All of these things are adding up, making it harder and harder for families every single day.
Nearly three million Canadians per year are unable to afford one or more of their prescription drugs. These stats are important because we know that people are not able to afford what is going to keep them well. Think about some of the challenges. I have talked to families who have children with serious health issues. I remember one in particular whose daughter had diabetes and had a scanner in her arm, but it cost a certain amount of money. When the father of the family was hurt at work and was on a disability pension, they could not afford that anymore and they had to get it removed from her arm. I cannot imagine families having to make these kinds of decisions.
There are some fundamental issues we need to deal with in this country. We know of the three million Canadians who cannot afford their medications, with 38% having private insurance and 21% having public insurance, which does not cover enough of their costs. Almost one million Canadians per year cut back on food or heating, like the senior in my riding, in order to pay for their medication and almost one million Canadians every year are borrowing money to pay for their medication.
I am a great admirer of the greatest Canadian in our country, and that is Tommy Douglas. He had a vision. I am hoping that today we will all be brave enough to step up to support this and move farther toward that dream and that vision, because this is really a way of making sure that everybody gets the treatment that they deserve in our country. It is about looking at how to spend money more effectively. I certainly would love to see money going into somebody's medication instead of it going into a hospital bed. We do not want people who are not well to be in a hospital bed when medication would make their lives that much better. Hopefully, we will see a positive result of this.