"Be bold, Canadians told us. Be brave, they appealed to us."
— from the final report of the advisory council on the implementation of national pharmacare
Dear Premier Pallister:
June 12, 2019 could go down as a major milestone in the history of health care in Canada. But the people of Manitoba need your help to make this so. On that day, an advisory council of experts delivered to Canada a detailed road map for the implementation of a public prescription drug coverage plan for all: pharmacare.
After 20 years of advocacy, Canada’s nurses are optimistic that pharmacare for all could finally be within reach. Just beyond the horizon, we envision a future where patients receive prescriptions solely based on medical need and never their ability to pay.
Gone would be the days when nearly a million Canadians per year were forced to choose between paying for essentials — like heating and food — or their prescriptions. Gone would be the days when up to 640 Canadians died prematurely each year from one disease alone because they couldn’t afford their prescriptions. Gone would be the days when Canada’s ineffective attempts at negotiating drug prices left us shamefully paying the third-highest drug prices in the world.
The built-in inefficiencies of the current patchwork system of coverage amount to literally billions in wasted health-care dollars every single year. The parliamentary budget officer estimated that pharmacare would save at least 4.2 billion health-care dollars per year in Canada. The Advisory Council put the savings at $5 billion. As well, with up to 70,000 Canadians yearly suffering health deterioration because of unaffordable prescriptions, under pharmacare, a healthier population would also generate vast savings.
In Manitoba alone, total public and private spending on prescription drugs reached $917 million in 2017, up from $720 million 10 years earlier. Pharmacare would better control these rapidly rising costs.
A recent expert report commissioned by Canada’s nurses found that in 2015, a national pharmacare program would have saved 366 million health-care dollars per year in this province alone.
These savings would pay for 5,000 more seniors to receive daily home-care visits, 25 new community health centres, 400 additional long-term care beds per year and the hiring of 1,000 more nurses for our hospitals. Imagine the good that could be done in our health-care system by reinvesting those savings.
Despite the great leap made on June 12, a long road still lies ahead. The promise of pharmacare has been made and broken many times since medicare’s inception in the 1960s.
As a result, the dream of pharmacare has been left to drift off into the sunset. We cannot let this happen again.
Canadians need your help to guide the good ship pharmacare safely into harbour, once and for all.
As premier of Manitoba, you have the power to get this done. Working with your provincial and territorial counterparts and the federal government, you have the power to finally end the immeasurable suffering of nearly a million Canadians who are forced to choose between their medicine and food. For Canadians of all ages and backgrounds, pharmacare is a guarantee: when you need a prescription, you get the prescription. It’s that simple.
If you choose to be a pharmacare leader, be assured that the nurses of Manitoba would support you on this issue — for the sake of our patients, residents and clients. Call us and we’ll help.
As the final report of the advisory council emphasized, Canadians "reminded us to heed those uniquely Canadian values: looking out for one another, supporting neighbours and communities through tough times and treating each other with fairness."
Together, we can take this big step forward. For the people of Manitoba, for the people of Canada, the time has come.
Linda Silas is a registered nurse and longtime pharmacare champion and public health-care advocate. She has also been president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions since 2003. Darlene Jackson is a registered nurse and president of the Manitoba Nurses Union.