On Tuesday, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath visited Sault Ste. Marie to discuss her plan for Ontario’s first universal Pharmacare program while visiting the Algoma Diabetes Education and Care program.
“Families in the Sault and northern Ontario shouldn’t have to empty their wallets to get the medicine they need,” said Horwath. “Seeing a doctor doesn’t mean much if you can’t afford the prescription you’re given. But for one in four Ontarians, that’s the case today. That’s why I’m committed to creating Ontario’s first universal Pharmacare program.”
The highest rates of diabetes in the province are in northern Ontario and in rural areas. People living with diabetes are also more likely to need other types of medication. Horwath’s Pharmacare plan will include the most common and essential prescription medicines – such as common medication for high blood pressure, asthma, and diabetes. That list, set by independent experts and based on data, will include about 125 drugs at first, and grow over time.
Existing programs for seniors’ drugs and high-cost drugs will remain, while the cost of a prescription under Pharmacare will be no more than the co-payment through the Ontario Drug Benefit.
Employers that offer prescription drug benefits to their staff will save as much as an estimated $1.9 billion.
“Local businesses in the Sault will see substantial savings that will free up funds to expand their business, improve their benefits or hire more staff. That means more local jobs so people can stay in the Sault – especially young people,” said Horwath.
Today, 2.2 million Ontarians have no prescription drug coverage at all. With a growing number of workers in unstable and non-traditional jobs in Ontario, the number of people not covered is expected to grow.
But while jobs and benefits lag in some parts of northern Ontario, northerners have nearly double the level of risk of cardiovascular trouble, like heart attacks, than people in the Greater Toronto Area, according to a study published earlier this month in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. Two regions of northern Ontario, including Algoma-Manitoulin, have some of the lowest health outcomes for cardiovascular health in the province, likely because northerners have fewer preventative health care services.
“People in the Sault leave their doctor’s office with a prescription in hand, knowing they can’t afford to fill it. It’s time to do something about this,” said Horwath. “We can help people live healthier, less stressful lives. We can make their month a little more affordable. And by preventing emergency room trips, we can also relieve the strain on our overcrowded hospitals.
“This plan is realistic and affordable – and when I think of the millions of Ontarians who don’t take their medicine because of the cost, I know we can’t afford not to do this.”
Dr. Steve Morgan, one of Canada’s leading researchers on Pharmacare, voiced his support for Horwath’s plan on Monday. “A program of this kind is a practical way of significantly improving access to medicines while dramatically lowering overall drug costs,” said Morgan. “Universal public coverage of essential medicines is a significant and feasible step in the right direction.”
The NDP and Pharmacare experts estimate the cost to be under $475 million – less than one-third of one per cent of the province’s total annual budget.