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Michael Ignatieff commits to improved prescription drug coverage

Posted on April 23, 2011

HALIFAX – A Liberal government will take action to increase accessibility and reduce the costs of prescription drugs, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff announced today at the Izaak Walton Killam Hospital in Halifax, where he was joined by Halifax Liberal candidate Stan Kutcher.

“Prescription drugs are becoming a greater part of patient care,” said Mr. Ignatieff. “We need to make sure all Canadians, no matter where they live, have access to the prescription drugs they need. Access to affordable prescription drugs shouldn’t depend on where you live or whether you’re in or outside of a hospital.”

In an open letter to Canadians, Michael Ignatieff committed to a sustained 6% annual increase in health care funding as a foundation for crucial reforms, with two core priorities that will improve the quality of health care service and contain costs in the long term:

  • Drug coverage to increase accessibility and reduce the cost of prescription drugs; and
  • Home care to reduce hospital costs and increase the quality of health care.

With the Health Accord negotiated by Paul Martin’s Liberal government due to expire in 2014, a new Liberal government will convene a First Ministers meeting within 60 days of being sworn in to work on new funding arrangements and system-wide reforms.  In particular, Liberals will work with the provinces and territories to lower the cost of prescription drugs for both patients and the health care system, including support to expand bulk purchasing.

“A Liberal government will be at the table for Canada to work with the provinces and territories to ensure that all Canadians have a drug plan that covers the cost of prescription drugs,” said Mr. Ignatieff. “Access to affordable prescription drugs can make a huge difference for Canadians suffering from illnesses such as cancer, diabetes or arthritis.”

Across Canada, provinces and territories have taken different approaches to dealing with the rising costs of prescription drugs. Some 3.5 million Canadians have inadequate drug coverage or no coverage at all.

“Stephen Harper quickly terminated work on a National Pharmaceutical Strategy as soon as he took power,” said Mr. Ignatieff. “As a result of Stephen Harper’s neglect, many Canadians still don’t have affordable access to prescription drugs – which means there’s no time to waste on working with the provinces and territories to provide more affordable drug coverage.”

The Liberal Platform also makes concrete commitments to new measures that will contribute to the health of Canadians including a Family Care Plan, a Canadian Health Promotion Strategy, a National Food Policy to promote healthy eating, and a Brain Health Strategy. These federal initiatives would also be part of the early discussions with provincial and territorial governments.

“Stephen Harper’s budget said that health care funding was ‘subject to change’ and his past comments show that he can’t be trusted to defend universal public health care,” said Mr. Ignatieff. “With $11 billion in new cutbacks and billions in new spending on corporate tax cuts, jails and fighter jets, Stephen Harper’s poor choices and support for private health care place long-term sustained funding for public health care at serious risk.”

Background
The Liberal Commitment to improved prescription drug coverage

Under Liberal leadership, the federal government will be a strong partner in the Canadian health care system, changing course after five years of disengagement under the Harper government.

A key area of reform is access to prescription drugs.

The care that patients receive in hospitals is only one fraction of the treatment prescribed. Pharmaceutical drugs are becoming a greater and greater part of patient care. Drugs delivered in a hospital are covered by our health care system, but those prescribed outside of the hospital are a different story.

Every province and territory has a different approach to dealing with the rising costs of pharmaceuticals.  This makes the quality of care dependent upon where Canadians live. As a result, some 3.5 million Canadians have inadequate drug coverage or no coverage at all.

The situation in the Maritimes is particularly concerning. Residents in Nova Scotia have only limited coverage for the costs of expensive pharmaceuticals used to treat diseases like cancer and diabetes, while people in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island have no coverage at all. With two-thirds of all new cancer drugs prescribed for in-home cancer treatment costing over $20,000 per year, too many Canadians face financial devastation alongside the challenge of battling serious illness.

No Canadian family should be forced to choose between their health and their financial future. Prescription drugs are a key component of disease prevention, treatment, and recovery. This is why Paul Martin’s Liberal government included the development and implementation of a National Pharmaceutical Strategy (NPS) as a key component of the 2004 Health Accord. The strategy committed the federal, provincial and territorial governments to work together on a series of measures to increase the access to and reduce the cost of pharmaceuticals, including:

  • Expanding catastrophic drug coverage for all Canadians;
  • Enhancing access to breakthrough pharmaceuticals for rare illnesses; and
  • Pursuing cost-reducing collaborative drug purchasing strategies.

A good deal of progress was made on the NPS in the two years following its announcement. However, the Harper government quickly terminated work on NPS after it formed government. As a result of the Harper government’s neglect, many Canadians still don’t have affordable access to prescription drugs that was promised in the 2004 Health Accord.

A Liberal government, with a commitment to a 6% escalator in the Canada Health Transfer, will work with the provinces and territories to lower prescription drug costs and ensure that all Canadians from coast to coast to coast have an affordable drug plan that covers the cost of prescription drugs that can be financially catastrophic for families.

Questions & Answers

Q: Prescription drugs are a critical part of Canada’s health care system, yet they are not covered.  Will you implement a national pharmacare program?

A: Step by step, it is our long-term goal to establish improved access to prescription drugs across the country. We will begin work with the provinces and territories to ensure that all Canadians from coast to coast to coast have a drug plan that covers the cost of prescription drugs for illnesses such as cancer, diabetes or arthritis that can be financially catastrophic to families. We are also committed to finding ways to lower the cost of prescription drugs for the health care system, including supporting provinces and territories to expand bulk purchasing.

Q: You state in your platform you will address catastrophic drug coverage and ensure Canadians have equal access to prescription drugs across this country. This has been promised in the past, but it has never transpired.  What’s different this time?

A: Affordable access to catastrophic drugs was included as a key component of the 2004 Health Accord through the National Pharmaceutical Strategy, but this plan was killed by the Harper Conservatives after they formed government.

With the Health Accord negotiated by Paul Martin’s Liberal government due to expire in 2014, a new Liberal government will convene a First Ministers meeting within 60 days of being sworn to work on new funding arrangements and system-wide reforms, including lowering the cost of prescription drugs.  We will begin with an assessment of coverage across the country and then work with provinces and territories to reduce the cost of prescription drugs for all Canadians, including catastrophic drug coverage, enhancing access to breakthrough pharmaceuticals for rare illnesses, and pursuing cost-reducing collaborative drug purchasing strategies.

Q: Some provinces, including Quebec, already have public pharmacare plans or catastrophic drug plans. How do you deal with this? Will your plan not interfere in provincial jurisdiction?

A: By working in partnership, the federal government and provinces and territories can benefit from cooperation and establish best practices. The bottom line is we believe the federal government has a leadership role to play in complementing the work done by provinces and territories to improve access and lower the cost of prescription drugs for Canadians. In 2004-05, a Liberal government was negotiating in partnership with the provinces and territories to develop a National Pharmaceuticals Strategy. Anything we do we will do in partnership with provinces and territories and complement existing programs, such as the pharmacare plan in Quebec.

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