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Translating the budget's 'pharmacare' promise

March 3, 2018 1:00 PM
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Translating the budget's 'pharmacare' promise

It was a roller-coaster week for health care advocates awaiting a pharmacare program for prescription drugs

For health care advocates, it was a roller-coaster week. On Tuesday it looked like Canada was poised to finally get a national pharmacare program.

Health groups cheered when the federal budget established the Advisory Council on the Implementation of National pharmacare. After all, in the dictionary "implementation" means "the process of putting a decision or plan into effect."

That's what former Saskatchewan Premier Roy Romanow called for in 2002 when he chaired a royal commission on health. And that's what Justice Emmett Hall called for in 1964 when he chaired an earlier royal commission on health. And it's also what the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health is expected to recommend after a two-year investigation into national pharmacare.

But that is apparently not what Morneau and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau were announcing when they hastily added the words "national pharmacare" to Tuesday's budget speech at the last minute.

(There was no mention of national pharmacare in the advanced version of the budget given to reporters. The short paragraph setting up the Advisory Council was added after the budget speech. The budget document did not allocate a single dollar to cover either the Council or a pharmacare program.)

Morneau explained at the breakfast meeting that he's talking about a "strategy" that would patch up the current system to provide drug coverage for people who don't have it now. It would also leave the current private employer-operated health insurance system in place.

If Canada preserves the existing system dominated by a handful of large insurance companies and adds a layer of government funding for Canadians who don't have workplace drug coverage, will that achieve the goals of national pharmacare?

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