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Ford favours corporate tax cuts over pharmacare

The Council of Canadians is dismayed by Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s weakening of pharmacare for youth and seniors while at the same time he pledges to implement a massive corporate tax cut.

The previous Liberal government in Ontario introduced a pharmacare plan called OHIP+ that provided free access to 4,400 medications in a provincial formulary to 4 million children, teens and young adults under 25. The Council of Canadians – and its allies the Ontario Health Coalition, the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario, and Unifor – welcomed OHIP+ when it was first announced in April 2017.

Toronto Star columnist Tom Walkom has commented that Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives (under former leader Patrick Brown) do not like OHIP+ because, “It is a step on the road to universal pharmacare.”

Now, the Canadian Press reports, “Ontario’s government will no longer offer free prescriptions to kids and young adults with private coverage, the province’s new health minister announced Saturday. …Children and youth who are not covered by private benefits will continue to receive their eligible prescriptions for free, the news release said, while those covered by private plans will bill those insurers first and the government second. …The announcement comes a day after Christine Elliott was sworn in as minister of health and long-term care as part of the new Progressive Conservative cabinet.”

Elliott says, “Premier Ford promised the people he would find efficiencies without compromising service or jobs, and we are delivering.”

But critics have highlighted that there are few (if any) “efficiencies” to be found in the provincial government reducing its ability to purchase prescription drugs in bulk, championing a two-tiered model (which in Quebec has been described as expensive and unsustainable), or in equating “private coverage” that can include high deductibles, co-pays, and pharmacist dispensing fees.

Last spring, The Globe and Mail reported, “Premier Kathleen Wynne said Friday [April 28, 2017] that she hopes Ontario’s move will prod the federal government and other provinces to work together on a national pharmacare strategy…” In a concerning signal, the newspaper reported on June 8 of this year that in contrast, “[Ford has] resisted the federal push to consider a national pharmacare program.”

In March of this year the Liberals had also promised to expand OHIP+ to seniors 65 years of age and over starting in August 2019. The Ford campaign made no such promise during the election in its Plan for the People.

It had been estimated that pharmacare for youth would cost about $465 million a year while pharmacare for seniors would cost about $1 billion over three years. Ford pledged to reduce the corporate tax rate to 10.5 per cent from 11.5 per cent. That promise is expected to cost about $1.3 billion a year in government revenue.

Federal NDP health critic Don Davies has tweeted, “This is why Canada needs universal, public, single-payer drug coverage (just like all necessary health services). Failure to cover everyone (as Liberals did) makes it easy to cut public coverage (as the Cons just did). Covering everyone gives all a stake in a quality system.”

The Council of Canadians continues to call on federal and provincial governments to support a universal single-payer public prescription drug plan.