Why are we forever chasing the dream of a universal drug plan?
2019-06-18 from thestar.com
Just don’t count on it until the votes are counted.
Ever since the founding of medicare, medicines have been conspicuously left off the list while politicians deferred pharmacare for the future. That was a half-century ago, and our leaders still haven’t followed up.
At least not nationally. Ontario, however, offers a cautionary tale for how fast pharmacare can rise to the top of the agenda — only to be derailed by opposing political agendas, fierce resistance from private insurers, public ambivalence and voter apathy.
Two years ago, much like today, the provincial wings of the rival Liberals and New Democrats made competing proposals to phase in pharmacare programs. The unpopular Liberal government of then-premier Kathleen Wynne implemented full coverage for seniors and young Ontarians (age 24 and under) early last year.
Then Wynne lost the election. Basking in its putative political honeymoon the Progressive Conservative government of Premier Doug Ford gutted the universal coverage in Ontario’s pioneering OHIP+ program.
Health Minister Christine Elliott issued a terse news release announcing the Tories would “fix the OHIP+ program” to make it more “cost-effective.” In the aftermath, Canada’s biggest province has become a dead end for pharmacare.
Why did Ford’s Tories undo universality? How did they get away with it?
The voting public didn’t buy into free prescription drugs in a big way. Pharmacare lacked a vocal provincial constituency last year, just as it lacks a powerful federal advocate this year, despite broad (if soft) support in public opinion polls.
Today, as the federal Liberals and NDP pick apart each other’s proposals, federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is dismissing them both — calling pharmacare unaffordable and unworkable. Just as Ford did last year.
Will Canadians learn the lessons of Ontario’s lost opportunities?
It is an enduring paradox of this country — and province — that we view medicare as a quintessentially Canadian trait, even though we remain an international outlier: No other Western country with universal health coverage excludes prescription drug coverage as we do.
About 20 per cent of Canadians, or 7.5 million people, lack prescription drug coverage — leaving them unable to afford vital drug therapies to fight illness and stay healthy.
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