Today’s announcement by the NDP about their plan to expand pharmaceutical coverage to all low and middle income seniors is a welcome incremental step in addressing the massive burden that drug costs have on Albertans and their families.
The announcement came with a commitment of $110 million per year, which the NDP estimates will save qualifying seniors an average of $200 annually in out of pocket costs. The plan will cover all seniors with a yearly income of $75,000 or less, impacting 4 out of 5 seniors. Currently all Albertans aged 65 or older have drug coverage through the Coverage for Seniors Benefit, but are required to pay copayments of 30% for each prescription they fill, up to a maximum of $25. As many seniors require multiple medications, these costs can quickly add up, especially impacting the many seniors on a fixed income.
By eliminating these copayments, the NDP would be taking a step forward in addressing issues of affordability when it comes to this crucial aspect of health care. The efficacy of this plan, however, is hindered by its relatively small scope; any partial plan towards drug coverage forgoes the health and cost benefits of true universal coverage. “What we are looking for is a commitment that this province will stand firmly behind a national pharmacare plan,” said Azocar. “We need a universal, single-payer plan that that covers all Albertans. Medication should never be a luxury.”
While the plan proposed by the NDP would benefit low and middle income seniors in the immediate term, it only just begins to address the greater impact caused the inequity of our current drug system. Canadians pay the second highest costs of all OECD countries, second only to the United States. In Alberta alone, pharmaceuticals make up the third highest cost driver in our health budget, and 21% of households can’t afford to take their medications as prescribed. A national, single-payer pharmacare program is estimated to generate yearly savings of $7.1 billion for Canadians.
Friends of Medicare is hopeful that this extended coverage for seniors represents, as Notley indicated today, one implemental step of many in making medications affordable for Albertans. If we are to see truly equitable pharmaceutical access for all Albertans, we will need bold action from our provincial leaders in support of a universal pharmacare program based on need, and not the ability to pay.