Pharmacare talks take centre stage

by Gayle Wilson

  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>Dr. Monika Dutt of Canadian Doctors for Medicare gave a talk in support of pharmacare at the Mahone Bay Centre on April 20.</p>
  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>According to Dr. Monika Dutt of Canadian Doctors for Medicare, surveys have shown that 90 per cent of Canadians support the idea of including prescription medications in the Canada Health Act&#8217;s covered services.</p>
  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>About 25 people turned up at the Mahone Bay Centre April 20 to hear Dr. Monika Dutt of Canadian Doctors speak about pharmacare, as part of the South Shore Chapter Council of Canadian presentation series.</p>

Skepticism that the federal government would introduce a national pharmacare program was palpable as the South Shore Chapter of the Council of Canadians hosted a talk called National Pharmacare: An Unfinished Piece of Medicare, at the Mahone Bay Centre April 20.

However, over in Halifax, the federal Liberal Party Convention was taking steps to arrange just that.

The guest speaker in Mahone Bay was Dr. Monika Dutt, a board member and past chair of Canadian Doctors for Medicare.

Dutt is also the executive director of Upstream, a not-for-profit group dedicated to creating a healthy society through evidence-based, people-centred ideas, and is a family physician at Wagmatcook First Nation.

"We're facing a stiff climb, to get there," David Walmark summed up some of the post-talk comments made to Dutt, blaming pressure the government faces from insurance companies.

Dutt herself expressed frustration that the government was intending to work with yet another advisory group to look into the issue, despite numerous surveys that suggest the majority of Canadians are in favor of a national pharmacare system.

And she noted the federal finance minister has already gone on record that he's not keen on a blanket introduction of an across the board coverage of medication costs.

Still, she told the 25 people or so who had gathered at the centre to hear her speak that she was "hopeful."

"I do think there's a better chance with our current government than if, say, the Conservatives come back in. I do think that there is a window."

Just as Dutt was projecting statistics concerning the burden of the cost of prescriptions on people and comparisons that puts Canada among the last western nations to include prescriptions in its medicare, the Liberal Party was resolving to put in place a national pharmacare plan before the federal election in 2019.

The recommendation would see the government amend the Canada Health Act to add prescription medicines to the definition of covered services.

According to the National Post, asked about that resolution, Prime Minister Justine Trudeau commented, "I can tell you from many, many conversations with Liberals that it is a priority for us."

The Liberal Party's resolution follows moves that its majority government made earlier this spring, allocating funds in the federal budget to form an advisory council on pharmacare headed up by Eric Hoskins, who resigned as Ontario's health minister to take the job.

Meanwhile, earlier this month, the all-party House of Commons health committee tabled a report that recommended a universal single-payer program.

Titled Pharmacare now: Prescription medicine coverage for all Canadians, the report recommended the biggest change in Canada's premier social program since extra-billing by doctors was outlawed in 1984.

However, speaking in Mahone Bay, Dutt pointed out that Finance Minister Bill Morneau has already gone on record as indicating he's more in favor of a system that fills in the gaps for those Canadians not already covered by private health insurance plans.

Addressing the Economic Club of Canada in Ottawa after the budget was announced, Morneau said, "We need a strategy to deal with the fact not everyone has access, and we need to do it in a way that's responsible, that deals with the gaps, but doesn't throw out the system that we currently have."

That prompted the leaders of the Canadian Labour Congress, the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions and Canadian Doctors for Medicare to write to the prime minister suggesting Morneau pre-supposed the outcome of the advisory group study by saying he supports an eventual strategy that would preserve existing drug-insurance systems in Canada, rather than introducing a new national plan.

Global News reported that the letter also referred to the finance minister's past ties to his family-built firm Morneau Shepell, one of the largest benefits consultancy providers in Canada.

Jackie Herman, a woman who attended the Mahone Bay talk, asked Dutt, "What are the barriers for us general folk to say, 'This is good for us. This is what we need for everyone?' What needs to happen there?"

Dutt noted that Canadian Doctors for Medicine have been making presentations to some municipal councils asking them to come on board to support the call for pharmacare.

"I feel like this is the kind of issue that people get. So often it's just having that conversation." said Dutt.

"We know that 90 per cent of Canadians support national pharmacare, so it's kind of what is the next step from there," she added.

With an eye on next year's election, it could be the ruling Liberal Party has already taken it.

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