When Canada’s current provincial and territorial first ministers gathered this past July for their annual summit, it was anybody’s guess whether the group would find much commonality on any topic, especially the bold-social-program variety. But that is exactly what happened when the premiers assembled in picturesque St. Andrews by-the-Sea, New Brunswick.
While many expected the escalating trade dispute with our southern neighbours to dominate the air time, Canada’s nurses were hard at work promoting national pharmacare at the summit.
Nurses organized a breakfast event for premiers featuring the Chair of the recently-created Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare, Dr. Eric Hoskins. Premiers got to hear from Hoskins about the Council’s national consultations, currently underway, and their plan to build a concrete blueprint for taking pharmacare from vision to reality.
The event also featured Member of Parliament John Oliver, who discussed the parliamentary health committee’s recent Pharmacare Now report, and former Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page, who presented on fiscal approaches to a national plan.
As Linda Silas, President of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (CFNU), highlighted, premiers of all political stripes have powerful reasons to support a national pharmacare plan. Aside from the compelling moral imperatives of saving lives and decreasing morbidity, Silas pointed to the significant financial savings, between $4 and $11 billion annually, that national pharmacare would deliver.
Instead of the current 100,000+ public and private plans across the country, a single-payer, universal, public plan with a national formulary would allow for Canadians to leverage our collective purchasing power to negotiate better prices for medications that are effective and safe, based on the evidence, while ensuring no one falls through the cracks.
But here’s the kicker: there will be an initial startup cost and the logistics of pan-Canadian implementation are enough to give even the most seasoned policy wonk a headache.
This is where the federal government comes in. Canada’s nurses are calling for strong federal leadership through legislation, appropriate funding, and ensuring the massive system-wide savings are redistributed fairly so that provinces, patients and our public health care benefit.
This was the message delivered to premiers at the CFNU policy event by nurses union leaders from across the country, including Pauline Worsfold (CFNU), Jane Sustrik (UNA), Tracy Zambory (SUN), Darlene Jackson (MNU), Vicki McKenna (ONA), Paula Doucet (NBNU), Janet Hazelton (NSNU), Mona O’Shea (PEINU) and Debbie Forward (RNUNL).
Pharmacare received top billing in the premiers’ final communique, which called for adequate and sustained federal funding, maintaining provincial and territorial responsibility for the administration of the plan, and the right for provinces and territories to opt-out of the plan with compensation.
The willingness of this group of premiers to move forward with the development of a national pharmacare plan, with some qualifications, is a victory for nurses’ decades-long advocacy on this issue.
As Dr. Hoskins noted during the proceedings, Canada’s medicare system was also voluntary in the beginning. And that’s not bad company to keep.
Take action: 15 Minutes for Pharmacare
Fill out the government’s online questionnaire to add your voice for pharmacare that is: 1) Public 2) Universal 3) Single-Payer with 4) A National Formulary. Visit https://www.letstalkhealth.ca/pharmacare to participate.