Advocacy groups on P.E.I. applaud national pharmacare plan

Advocacy groups on P.E.I. applaud national pharmacare plan

Groups on P.E.I. that advocate for free drug coverage say the announcement of a federal pharmacare plan is good news  — and they’re waiting for more details. 

On Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled a pharmacare plan that will cover contraception and some diabetes treatments. Beyond that, the federal government says it intends eventually to implement more coverage for other medications.

“It’s a victory for the people of Canada — and especially the sick people of Canada,” said Mary Boyd, chair of the P.E.I. Health Coalition, a group that advocates for public health care.

“It’s a very first step… So many processes have to take place to get to the last step,” she said. 

A woman wearing a flowered sweatshirt stands in front of a poster on the wall of an office.
The new pharmacare plan means ‘Canada is catching up to the rest of the world,’ says Jillian Kilfoil, executive director of Women’s Network P.E.I. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

If Bill C-64 passes through Parliament, federal Health Minister Mark Holland will begin negotiating with the provinces and territories on a funding commitment to cover the cost of providing these medications to people for free. 

While most Islanders with diabetes have drug coverage through existing provincial programs, P.E.I. pays for insulin pumps only for people under 25. The federal plan will help fill in some gaps, with coverage for a list of medications, insulin, devices and test strips.

Poverty can mean unhealthy tradeoffs

Too many Islanders are struggling to pay for medications they need because of inflation over the last few years, said Boyd. 

“Many say you have to split your pills and just take half your medication, or you have to make a trade between food and medication,” she said. 

“Some of the people who have private insurance, when they retire, some of their drugs are actually delisted off their private insurance plans and then they have to go and start negotiating for their care under another program.” 

Hormonal birth control pills
The federal government hasn’t announced which contraceptive drugs will be included in the new plan, but says a comprehensive group of drugs and devices will be covered. (Shutterstock)

Jillian Kilfoil, executive director of Women’s Network P.E.I., said she hears about the same struggles when she talks to people about the cost of birth control. 

“Even something that costs $20 a month or a couple hundred bucks can be a huge barrier,” said Kilfoil. 

Such barriers to access for birth control can lead to unplanned pregnancies, Kilfoil said, which in the end places a greater burden on the health-care system than funding contraceptives would have been.  

While the exact types of contraceptives included in the plan haven’t been specified, Ottawa says a variety of drugs and devices will eventually be covered.

Canada ‘catching up’

Kilfoil and Boyd both pointed out that Canada has been the only country in the world with universal health care but no universal drug plan. 

“It’s great to see that Canada is catching up to the rest of the world and that those barriers to access will be removed for people,” Kilfoil said. 

A spokesperson from the P.E.I. Department of Health and Wellness told CBC News that they are still looking at how the national program will work alongside the existing provincial drug formulary, but added there are already plans to expand provincial diabetes coverage.

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