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One day after raising hope about pharmacare, Morneau talks partial drug coverage

Finance Minister Bill Morneau

The Council of Canadians has long called for a single, universal, publicly funded prescription drug program that would both save lives and billions of dollars.

Like many across the country, we were hopeful about the news reports on Monday that suggested that the federal government was about to announce a new advisory council to be headed by former Ontario health minister Eric Hoskins with the purpose of studying options to implement a pharmacare program.

On Tuesday, the federal government confirmed a council would be formed led by Hoskins with a “mandate to study, evaluate and ultimately recommend options on a path forward on pharmacare that puts Canadians first.”

But now CBC reports, “Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau says a new national pharmacare program will be ‘fiscally responsible’ and designed to fill in gaps, not provide prescription drugs for Canadians already covered by existing plans. Morneau said the government has a goal of ensuring all Canadians get the medication they need, but it does not yet have all the answers on how to get there.”

The article adds, “[NDP leader Jagmeet] Singh believes limiting eligibility would fall short of the full-fledged pharmacare program Canadians want.”

Canadian Health Coalition national director James Hutt says, “This is a cruel sleight of hand. Millions of Canadians have been waiting decades for life-saving medications and were ecstatic by the Liberals announcement yesterday. Now today they clarify that the Liberals want only partial drug coverage — not for everyone.”

Furthermore, NDP health care critic Don Davies has cautioned, “The scheme Morneau wants (mixed private/public coverage) is inefficient and extremely expensive – and the one private insurers want.”

The CBC article quotes Stephen Frank, president and CEO of the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association, who says, “There’s a lot of good, concrete, very easily done ideas that would knit together a public and private system and smooth over some of those gaps, and we think they’re the right way forward.”

The Canadian Press comments without detail, “Hoskins will likely be supportive of maintaining existing systems.”

Linda Silas with the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, Dr. Danyaal Raza with Canadian Doctors for Medicare, and Hassan Yussuff with the Canadian Labour Congress have highlighted, “In his speech [to the Economic Club of Canada today], the Minister stated ‘my firm [Morneau Shepell] was the largest provider of benefits consultancy services in Canada’. With these deep ties to the private firm Morneau Shepell, we are concerned that the Finance Minister may not be approaching the issue of fundamental change in national drug insurance policies with an exclusive focus on evidence in the public interest.” They have asked that Morneau recuse himself from this matter.

Prior to the advisory council’s report to be released in Spring 2019, there are two other reports on the immediate horizon.

Earlier today Toronto Star national affairs writer Chantal Hébert noted, “The pharmacare announcement pre-empts not one, but two, imminent federal reports. The recommendations of a parliamentary committee that has studied the issue are in final drafting stages. And two independent healthcare experts commissioned by the government to make recommendations designed to ‘improve the affordability, accessibility and appropriate use of pharmaceuticals’ are due to report next month.”

To send an email to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor calling for a universal pharmacare program, please click here.