January 21, 2020

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NDP pledge to revive provincial special drugs program

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>NDP Leader Wab Kinew and St. Johns candidate Nahanni Fontaine</p>

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

NDP Leader Wab Kinew and St. Johns candidate Nahanni Fontaine

With a week to go until Manitoba election day, the NDP tried to pack a one-two punch Tuesday: a morning policy announcement and a targeted hit on the Tories.

First, NDP Leader Wab Kinew pledged to reinstate the provincial special drugs program, which would help about 1,100 Manitobans access medications, at an estimated cost of $900,000 per fiscal year.

The program covered prescription costs for those with chronic conditions such as cystic fibrosis and Type 1 diabetes.

In April, the PC government lumped it in with Pharmacare coverage, which meant Manitobans previously covered under the special drugs program had to pay deductibles on those prescriptions — an additional cost of hundreds or thousands of dollars, depending on the person's income.

"We feel as though folks who are dealing with these sorts of chronic, ongoing and serious conditions should get full coverage so that they can stay healthy in the community and they can enjoy a strong quality of life," Kinew said.

"These are life-saving drugs. We feel that they should be fully covered in Manitoba."

The NDP would also freeze Pharmacare deductible rates and expand the provincial drug formulary to include more bio-similars (drugs approved by Health Canada that have different compounds, but produce the same effects as name-brand prescriptions).

Manitobans go to the polls Sept. 10.

Similarly, the Liberals promised to restore the special drugs program in July, but they didn't provide a cost estimate. Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said his party would also cover the costs of diabetes test strips and insulin pumps, as well as CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machines to help those with sleep apnea, to the tune of about $9.2 million per year.

Progressive Conservative candidate Cameron Friesen (Morden-Winkler) accused the NDP of promoting "two-tiered health care" with a proposed reintroduction of the special drugs program.

"We have moved a small legacy drug program into Pharmacare to simplify the health system and ensure coverage is fair for all Manitobans," the health and seniors minister said in an emailed statement.

"Under the PC government, our province’s Pharmacare program is one of the most robust drug programs in the country, offering some of the broadest coverage in all of Canada to Manitobans."

Later Tuesday, the NDP shared portions of a leaked KPMG document dated January 2019 and labelled "confidential draft." Kinew alleged pages from the consultant's report showed Tory plans for further health-care cuts, including 160 possible job losses.

Friesen responded by email again, ignoring the claim and pointing to a plank in the NDP campaign platform which has the party committing to "reduce the health-care bureaucracy at the highest levels" by cutting management positions.

jessica.botelho@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @_jessbu

Jessica Botelho-Urbanski

Jessica Botelho-Urbanski
Legislature reporter

Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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