Madam Speaker, I wish to thank my NDP colleagues for giving me the opportunity to speak. I will be splitting my time with the member for Edmonton Strathcona.
One third of working Canadians do not have employer-funded drug coverage. One in five households reported a family member who had not taken a prescribed medicine in the past year due to its cost.
Every year, nearly three million Canadians say they cannot afford to fill one or more of their prescriptions.
In the 2019 election, I heard these statistics echoed at doors and across party lines. I am excited by the idea of national pharmacare and the support I know we have from members of the House to improve the lives of Canadians. I am also excited by how much work has already been done to understand what our national pharmacare plan needs to look like.
Last June, the well-known published final report of the advisory council on implementation of national pharmacare, also known as the Hoskins report, advised that it had received questionnaires from more than 15,000 people and organizations, received more 14,000 petitions or letters, reviewed more than 150 written submissions, investigated global best practices and hosted town halls and round tables. It uncovered significant gaps in drug coverage.
Of the nearly three million Canadians who said they were not able to afford their prescriptions, 38% had access to private insurance coverage and 21% had public coverage. However, with co-pays and exemptions, they still did not have the resources to afford their medications. Almost one million Canadians were forced to cut back on food or home heating to pay for their medication.
Nearly one million Canadians have had to borrow money to pay for their prescription drugs.
This highlights the crushing poverty weighing on Canadians. It has many causes but with pharmacare, we can take one worry away. We can alleviate some of the stress and uncertainty in their lives.
In the Hoskins report, the advisory council laid out several recommendations to address these gaps, and I will reiterate them.
Its first and foremost recommendation was that the federal government work with provincial and territorial governments to establish a universal, single-payer, public system of prescription drug coverage in Canada. A two-tiered system would create further inequity, leaving low-income and unemployed Canadians at risk. The administration of such a program would be cost-ineffective. A privately administered system would create profit incentives where public interest must be the first priority.
The council also recommended that national pharmacare benefits be portable across provinces and territories. This reinforces the need for federal leadership to come alongside provincial health departments to ensure the system is truly national in scope.
Another recommendation was to make everyone in Canada eligible for a pharmacare program to ensure that everyone can get the drugs they need to maintain their physical and mental health.
It also recommended a national formulary be developed to list which prescription drugs and related products should be covered to ensure all Canadians would have access equally to the medicines they needed to maintain or improve their health, no matter where they were living in Canada.
Clearly this is a big job. We are going to need leadership from our Prime Minister and his cabinet, and we are going to need significant financial investment from the federal government to make this happen.
It is remarkable that Canada is the only developed country that has a universal health care program that does not include universal coverage for prescription medication, especially when we know there are real costs associated with people who need to skip doses or avoid filling prescriptions because they cannot afford to buy them. These decisions put strain on our health care system.
People are struggling to stay healthy their whole lives, which leads to complications and chronic illnesses later in life.
Individuals end up in urgent health care situations, needing to return to hospital emergency rooms and taking up hospital beds, because they can not afford to properly manage their conditions and illnesses at home.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer has already indicated that this will save federal, provincial and territorial governments billions of dollars, and that does not even consider the quality of life for Canadians who require prescription medicines.
A recent study by St. Michael's Hospital's MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions found that providing free medicine resulted in a 44% increase in people taking their essential medications and led to a 160% increase in the likelihood of participants being able to make ends meet.
Ensuring people have access to the medications they need throughout their life will have real, positive impacts, such as poverty reduction, as people become able to direct their money toward food, rent, home heating or child care. When a chronic condition is well managed with medications, individuals can better access the workforce and participate in their communities.
People with rare diseases should not have to go bankrupt because of their diagnosis.
Those living on fixed incomes, such as seniors, are not stuck with increasing pharmaceutical costs. For people in immediate mental health crisis, the extra financial anxiety of a new medication does not have to weigh on them.
I am struck as well by the consensus that exists around this issue.
The majority of MPs in the House are members of parties that made this issue a priority in the last election.
Polls show that 90% of Canadians support equal access to prescription drugs, regardless of income. When I saw national pharmacare reference in the mandate letters of four ministers, I was hopeful that we would actually see this happen in the 43rd Parliament, but I am a little concerned that nothing seems to be moving on this front yet, and I am so thankful for this motion from my NDP colleagues.
Maybe we will be pleasantly surprised when the budget is tabled, but I fear that the government may be losing its courage, perhaps because of the lobbying that is being carried out by pharmaceutical and insurance companies. I hope the government is being vigilant against letting entities with deep pockets and full-time Ottawa-based lobbyists buy influence on our policy development process.
I have spent time with representatives from community organizations and health care professionals and their unions. They said that we need universal public pharmacare. These groups include the Heart and Stroke Foundation, National Nurses United, the Canadian Diabetes Association, the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association, the Canadian Health Coalition, the Canadian Labour Congress, and I could go on. These organizations represent average Canadians, workers in the health field and those who are living with, or caring for, people with chronic or acute disease. These are the people we work for.
The Canadian Medical Association shared stories of doctors fighting for national pharmacare. Dr. Nav Persaud had this to say: "Why did I spend all those years training to become a doctor if at the end of it, when I give someone a diagnosis, they don't fully benefit because they can't afford the treatment?"
The advisory council on the implementation of national pharmacare left us with the way forward: "It will take time, significant federal investment and close collaboration among all health system partners to turn Canada's patchwork of prescription drug insurance plans into a national public pharmacare program.”
But it is possible. Thanks to the work of the council, the path forward is clear. The data are incontestable, Canadians are on board and parliamentarians in the House are mostly on board. We are here to represent the people, and this is what the people want.
My final reflection is this: What are we waiting for?