Medication should be available for everyone
By Cazzy Lewchuk, Columnist
As anyone who has paid for a prescription knows, medication is not free in Canada. While it is already partially subsidized, medication can and is a significant cost for many Canadians. If someone has multiple or specialized prescriptions, the cost can be a significant burden without insurance. Some specialty medications can cost thousands of dollars a month. Without private insurance coverage (an additional expense), many people are simply unable to pay for their medication.
Canada is the only country with universal healthcare that does not also have universal pharmacare. Our trips to the doctor and hospital stays are free, and our health care costs are covered by the government—except when it comes to medication.
No one should ever have to choose between buying food and medicine. Many Canadians can and do avoid buying prescriptions because of the costs. I myself have struggled to pay for some medications between paycheques. Even $20 antibiotics can be a lot of money to some people. As a 2015 Angus Reid poll showed, more than one in five Canadians have avoided buying or refilling their prescriptions or have skipped or split doses because they cost too much.
We don’t charge people for the medication they consume while in the hospital, just as we don’t charge for other hospital costs. The idea of charging for such a thing would be opposed by most people under our universal healthcare, so why is it expected that we pay for medications outside of the hospital?
Many Canadians already receive prescription drugs for free, such as people in the military, refugees, and Indigenous peoples. Many others are also eligible under different provincial plans. No doubt many people feel resentful of those receiving extra benefits and feel it’s unfair. I don’t have a problem with certain groups getting extra help, but I do agree it’s unfair that many Canadians pay for prescriptions while others don’t, regardless of income. Poverty and medication costs affect people from any background, so these benefits should be extended to everyone. People function better in society when they aren’t stressed about finances and their health, and are more productive when they’re healthy.
I believe that universal pharmacare could save insurance costs to employers. The current health system costs the provinces a lot, and many have been pushing Ottawa for universal pharmacare. The initial $19 billion plan saves $4.2 billion a year in Canada, and that’s not including long-term costs saved in benefits to Canadians. Long-term benefits also include set prices and direct negotiation with pharmaceutical companies from the government, ensuring cheaper costs long-term.
However, it’s not all about cost-analysis and productivity. Whether it costs the government more shouldn’t be the point, budgets grow and shrink based on many factors.
Canadians, and everyone for that matter, deserve health care, and they deserve these things without a financial barrier. If we get free hospital visits and free medication in the hospital, there’s no reason for us to take the same thing at home and be forced to pay for it.
This is not a radical concept. Universal pharmacare should be the norm. It works in every other country with free universal health care. Health care is a human right, and Canadians being unable to access their medication should be considered a human rights violation.