This open letter by Canadian Health Coalition Chairperson Pauline Worsfold, RN was originally published in the Hill Times

CHC chair calls for progress on pharmacare implementation

August 9, 2023

As chairperson of the Canadian Health Coalition, I’d like to welcome Canada’s new Health Minister Mark Holland.

I’m not sure if Minister Holland will receive a mandate letter from the prime minister, as ministers do when a new government is formed, but just in case he doesn’t, here are my thoughts.

Our coalition supports public health care and is comprised of experts and unions representing health-care workers.

We are calling on the new minister to implement public universal pharmacare. Don’t be fooled by the blandishments and manipulations of the pharmaceutical industry, which obviously opposes public universal pharmacare. We know the industry is not happy and trying to cook up tricks to derail the introduction of pharmacare. We also hope he won’t be too impressed by caucus colleagues who are trying to placate the ferocious and well-financed pharma lobby on the Hill.

Canada’s drug prices might be lower than the United States, but they are much higher than in other comparable countries. 

The fact is that millions of Canadians are uninsured for the medicines they need. According to Statistics Canada, one in five Canadians had no private or public coverage for their prescriptions in 2021. 

Those lucky enough to have coverage often face sizeable deductibles and co-payments. As a result, about one in six Canadians paid more than $500 out-of-pocket on prescriptions in 2021, and not surprisingly, those without coverage paid the most. 

It’s been more than a year since the supply-and-confidence agreement between the Liberals and NDP took effect in March of 2022.  

It allows the Liberals to govern with NDP support until 2025, contingent on the implementation of a negotiated list of policies and priorities.

There are 27 policy items in the agreement, and the government figures it has completed 16 of them, including a partial implementation of dental care—a big step forward, even if it is not yet universal.

The next step forward is pharmacare, also included in the agreement, which calls for “[c]ontinuing progress towards a universal national pharmacare program by passing a Canada Pharmacare Act by the end of 2023 and then tasking the National Drug Agency to develop a national formulary of essential medicines and bulk purchasing plan by the end of the agreement.” 

Pharmacare is what I like to call a win-win-win. It’s a win for the provinces, a win for the federal government which introduces it, and most importantly a win for Canadians, who need to access necessary medications.

In closing, I note Minister Holland is in his sixth term as the MP for Ajax, in southern Ontario, so he knows the ropes. He also probably knows that one out of five of his constituents cannot afford their meds. 

The minister was very open about his family and personal history before a parliamentary committee examining a hybrid Parliament. I really admire his candour and compassion.

His parliamentary biography says he has backed health-related initiatives, serving as executive director of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada’s Ontario mission, and as its national director of children and youth. 

Interestingly, his former employer did a poll in 2019—long after Holland went into federal politics in 2004—on support for pharmacare in co-operation with my union, the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions. The poll put support for better access to prescription drugs at 93 per cent, with 88 per cent of those surveyed saying it is up to the federal government to make it happen. 

I very much look forward to working with Minister Holland to give all Canadians access to the medications they need. 

Pauline Worsfold, RN
Chair of the Canadian Health Coalition

Edmonton, Alta.