Green candidate applauds NDP prescription-drug plan

Victoria Green Party candidate Jo-Ann Roberts applauded the NDP’s $2.6-billion election pledge Friday to work toward universal prescription drug coverage.

“I think it’s great,” Roberts said.

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It’s not what voters might expect to hear, given that Roberts and NDP candidate Murray Rankin are locked in one of the Island’s hottest contests, and that the Green Party pitched a $1-billion national Pharmacare program to voters last month.

“Why should we fight about things we agree on?” asked Roberts, a former CBC radio host, noting that the plans are similar.

“This is great news that they’ve come on board. I hope the Liberals do as well,” she said. “Sometimes people ask what difference the Greens can make. Well, at least we started this conversation.”

In Regina on Friday, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair said his party would work with the provinces to improve and expand prescription drug coverage. He is not classifying the promise as a national pharmacare plan.

Mulcair promised $2.6 billion over four years for the program — more than twice what the Greens budgeted for a national pharmacare program — and $1.5 billion annually by 2020.

Rankin, the NDP health critic, said the goal is to provide universal access to prescription drug coverage to all Canadians, regardless of age or health condition.

“This is an important missing piece of medicare,” he said. While the party’s national messaging suggested the creation of universal access to affordable prescription drugs was a goal it would work toward, Rankin was more adamant. “We’re going to make it happen over the next mandate of the NDP government.”

The Victoria NDP candidate said he’s met seniors in James Bay who can’t afford to fill their prescriptions. “That’s a crime in Canada,” Rankin said.

The NDP said it will also aim for a 30-per-cent average reduction in the cost of prescription drugs through bulk purchasing programs, which it said would drive down the cost of prescription drugs for Canadians and save provinces as much as $3 billion a year.

It also pledged $80 million over four years to streamline drug reviews, reducing duplication and overhead costs for the provincial and federal governments.

Roberts said the Greens also want a streamlined national drug review. “We’re really quite pleased on behalf of Canadians.”

B.C.’s independent drug safety watchdog, the University of B.C.-based Therapeutics Initiative, is the kind of program that should be national to ensure the efficacy and affordability of prescription drugs, Rankin said. “I think we should try to make that a national program.”

Canadian Doctors for Medicare applauded the NDP and Green platforms, saying recent studies have shown one in five Canadian families can’t afford to pay for their medication. Canada is the only country with universal health care that doesn’t include public coverage for prescription medications, according to the group.

The federal government is one of the biggest buyers of prescription drugs in Canada, but the proper government role in prescription-drug programs has been a source of friction between Ottawa and the provinces. Provincial health ministers have pressured Ottawa to unveil a national pharmacare program.

The Pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance was formed by the provinces and territories to co-ordinate bulk buying and reduce costs for publicly funded drug programs.

The Liberal and Conservative parties have not announced their health-care platforms for the Oct. 19 election.

However, a Sept. 2 letter from Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau to Canada’s premiers says: “If my party forms government, we will call a federal-provincial meeting to reach a long-term agreement on health-care funding. A Liberal government will re-engage in areas where there is direct federal responsibility, including health promotion, support to caregivers, and First Nations’ health, and will meet with the premiers to talk about how to strengthen health care.”

Liberal Cheryl Thomas, a business consultant, took issue with the price tag of the NDP initiative, saying there is “no way” the NDP can deliver on all its many promises and still balance the budget.

Thomas, who is running in the Victoria riding, said the party would work with provinces to lower drug costs for Canadians.

“All Canadians should have access to affordable prescription drugs regardless of where they live and their personal financial situation,” she said. “What exactly that is going to look like, I can’t tell you yet.”

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

— With the Canadian Press

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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