ELECTION 2015: Three of four parties want national pharmacare system

North Island-Powell River: Candidates debate pharmacare at Seniors Centre Society

Liberal candidate for the North Island-Powell River riding in the upcoming federal election Peter Schwarzhoff told the crowd at the recent All Candidates Meeting at the Campbell River Seniors’ Centre that the cost of prescription drugs is going up faster than the average paycheque, and that has to stop.

“In fact, we’re hearing that as many in one in 10 people who are prescribed a medication don’t actually fill it, because they can’t afford to, and perhaps as many as one in three skip doses to make their prescriptions last longer,” which he says not only has a negative affect on their health, but also increases the overall cost of healthcare in Canada.

Schwarzhoff wants to remind the public that in 2004, then Prime Minister Paul Martin introduced a national action on drug costs, “and in 2006, Stephen Harper cancelled that.”

Fortunately, the provinces banded together to continue buy in bulk, Schwarzhoff says, “so there is a provincial effort … what’s lacking is the involvement of the federal government.”

He says the addition of the federal government to the provinces bulk buying power would itself lower drug costs.

“The federal government buys a lot of medicines – for First Nations, for the military, and for federal penitentiaries. The bulk buying power of the federal government is substantial, and merging with the provinces would make a huge impact (on cost) immediately.”

Green Party Candidate Brenda Sayers says a national pharmacare strategy is high on her party’s list of priorities, as well.

“What we are going to do is take the patchwork of public and private healthcare, and provide insurance under one umbrella,” she said. “We plan to establish a Crown corporation that will be in charge of purchasing prescription drugs that will save Canadians $11 million per year.”

She also encourages people to go online and look at the Green Party platform to see exactly what the party has planned and how they will make it happen.

“We know that people are paying 62 per cent more right now (for medication) than they were in 2006,” says NDP candidate Rachel Blaney.

“When I talk to people, I’m amazed by some of the stories,” she says, such as people forgoing heat in January so they can pay for their medication. “That’s just not acceptable.”

The NDP’s goal, Blaney says, “is to have a (federal) bulk purchasing program with all the provinces, so that we can see costs go down at least by 30 per cent.”

She says they have also committed to investing $2.6 billion over four years to support the provinces’ move towards universal access to prescription drugs.

“Part of our core, as the NDP, is healthcare,” Blaney says. “You know, Tommy Douglas did a lot of hard work in Saskatchewan and he brought forward that dream of having healthcare accessible. Because we knew then, and we know now, that nobody should have to make the choice between having a house, between having food, between having heat and their health, so we really need to have a plan that makes sense to support people.”

Conservative candidate Laura Smith, however, says figuring out how to lower the cost of pharmaceuticals is up to the provinces, as healthcare is their jurisdiction, not that of the federal government.

“The fact is, provincial negotiations are already underway to negotiate bulk costs,” Smith says. “Provinces on their own do have a significant ability to buy in bulk, and do pay less. That’s why a lot of Americans come here for cheaper drugs – because we’re already taking advantage of bulk buying. Having the provinces working together will obviously improve that.”

What Smith doesn’t want to do is “attach strings” to the funding being transferred to the provinces from the federal government.

“Provinces should have the freedom to look after their own priorities and to use their healthcare money the way it makes the sense to them.

“We have to be very careful not to cross that line.”


QUESTIONS?…If you have a question you would like the candidates to address at the upcoming All Candidates Meeting, submit them to editor@campbellrivermirror.com.

A selection of the questions will be put before the candidates at the forum on Thursday Oct. 8 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Tidemark Theatre and is sponsored by the Campbell River Mirror, the Tidemark Theatre and the Chamber of Commerce.