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Budget 2021: Time to Take Action on Pharmacare

To make meaningful progress on access to affordable prescription drugs, particularly at this critical time — the federal budget must include a clear timeline and funding for the full implementation of universal, publicly-funded pharmacare.

This includes legislation that shares the same principles found in the Canada Health Act to extend a consistent legal framework that guarantees universal health care, that is free at the point of access, for all Canadians. Progress on this front must also include accelerated establishment of a Canada Drug Agency [initially promised in the 2019 federal budget], implementation of a national list of medically necessary medications, a national strategy for expensive drugs for rare diseases and a process for active engagement with First Nations, Inuit and Métis partners.

Over the past year, millions of people in Canada have lost their jobs or seen their hours cut. At a time when our health is under constant risk, we are reminded that unemployment often means losing prescription drug insurance. To make matters worse, amidst a public health emergency, pharmaceutical companies are opposing reforms to bring our high prices for patented drugs in line with other countries by threatening to withhold medicines. From behind the veil of policy-making, how the federal government responds is likely to make a difference to your daily life.

In 2019, following the recommendations of their advisory council, the federal government seemed ready to introduce a national pharmacare program with funding for important groundwork. Prime Minister Trudeau committed to a “down payment”, but continues to fall short on details.

April 19, 2021 marks the first federal budget since 2019. For the quarter of households struggling to afford the medications they need today, and the 44% who worry about costs in the future, a national pharmacare program will provide valuable health and financial security.

There are many reasons why pharmacare should be universal, including cost-savings, purchasing power, and simplicity. Among the biggest should be that so many of our friends and family are suffering. Canadians need to know their government will help.


Danyaal Raza is a family physician at St. Michael’s Hospital & Past Board Chair of Canadian Doctors for Medicare. Edward Xie works as an emergency physician and assistant professor at the University of Toronto.