The P.E.I. Health Coalition is urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal government to keep its promise of implementing a national pharmacare program as soon as possible.
Passing legislation to establish universal pharmacare by the end of the year is a condition of the supply-and-confidence agreement between the Liberals and the NDP.
Health coalition chair Mary Boyd is concerned about how long the plan has been dragging on. She said she's heard of Islanders reducing their prescribed dosages or cutting back on fuel or food simply because they can't afford to pay for essential medications.
"You get people who are retired and they have a private drug plan. And then once they retired, some of the drugs are delisted and all of a sudden they're [paying] out of pocket," she said.
Drugs are unaffordable. And at a higher level with more serious illnesses, drugs are just out of sight for people. — Mary Boyd
"It's a struggle. Drugs are unaffordable. And at a higher level with more serious illnesses, drugs are just out of sight for people. And so this is the time. And so we want to encourage him in every way to keep his promise."
In a statement to CBC on Tuesday, the office of the federal health minister said the "government remains committed to move forward with national pharmacare and table a Pharmacare Act by the end 2023."
Last week, new Health Minister Mark Holland said legislation to implement a universal pharmacare program will be tabled this fall.
Thirty-eight new medications were added to the P.E.I. formulary last December with funding from the federal government. (Shutterstock)
The prime minister and his federal cabinet are in Charlottetown this week for a retreat.
The P.E.I. government has a pharmacare program that covers a limited number of medications and other medical supplies.
The federal government committed $35 million in 2021 to allow the provincial government to add new drugs to the coverage list.
$15 billion a year
In 2018, the Liberals appointed Dr. Eric Hoskins, a former Ontario Liberal health minister, to chair an advisory council to assess a national pharmacare plan.
The council's report, released the following year, recommended the establishment of a universal, single-payer public pharmacare system. Patients would pay $2 for common drugs, and $5 for less common ones to a maximum of $100 per year.
Fees would be waived for Canadians with low incomes.
The council estimated the yearly cost of the program would be $15 billion.
P.E.I.'s Health Coalition is hoping the legislation can be in place by the end of the year.
"I think if they miss the boat this time and they don't do this, what are Canadians to believe?" Boyd said.
"We need it and we need it now."