Etobicoke residents hope national pharmacare plan is on Liberal agenda


Etobicoke resident Janet Rodriguez received a brand new knee in 2012.

The surgery went smoothly and she was out of the hospital in three days, but before she knew it, she was back in her wheelchair.

“They didn’t cover the physiotherapy that a knee replacement requires,” she said. “So yeah, the quality of the surgery was amazing, the care that I received was outstanding, the nurses were caring and the doctors were knowledgeable, but the minute I leave the hospital, I’m no longer their person to care for.”

Rodriguez, who lives with chronic pain and several chronic illnesses, said she would like to see a health-care strategy that makes it more accessible for residents to receive these other crucial forms of treatment as well as the drugs they require.

At one point, throughout the progression of her illnesses, Rodriguez said she was on 17 different medications at once.

“Who can afford that?” she said. “It is absolutely imperative that when you go see the doctor, which is a human right to look after yourself, that when they give you the prescription, you will be able to follow the instructions, take the medication, and hopefully get better, or at least get well enough to be able to manage the rest of your life.”

Liberal MP Kirsty Duncan, who has been elected for her fourth term in Etobicoke North, said this is one of the greatest concerns she hears among north Etobicoke residents with regards to health care.

“People haven’t been able to afford prescription drugs,” she said. “So you don’t take the prescription the right way, or you take it every few days.”

She said the aspect of the federal Liberals’ plan for health care that she believes will most greatly benefit residents in the area is their promise to ensure everyone has access to a family doctor, as well as their national pharmacare plan to get Canadians the drug coverage they need at affordable prices.

"kirstyduncan"Liberal MP Kirsty Duncan delivers her victory speech after being reelected to represent Etobicoke North.- Veronica Appia/Torstar

Kate Mulligan, director of policy and communications with Alliance for Healthier Communities (of which the Rexdale Community Health Centre is a member), said it’s imperative to ensure everyone has access to prescription medicines.

“Over half of the people served by community-led health organizations live on low incomes and many cannot afford to cover their prescription drugs,” she said in an email. “Access to prescription medicines is fragmented, unequal and uneven; it undermines overall health and well-being for all people in Canada … We cannot afford to continue with a confusing and costly patchwork of private and public drug plans.”

Mary Wiktorowicz, professor of global health governance and policy at York University, said while there are many benefits to national pharmacare, such as a larger volume of people that would receive coverage and a greater capacity to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies to lower prices, it really comes down to co-operation between the federal government and the province in order for the system to be effective.

“I think in the end, there would have to be negotiations between the provinces and the federal government and the federal government would have to pay a good — at least 50 per cent and probably more — to make the provinces feel like it’s worth investing in,” she said.

Fatima Filippi, executive director of Rexdale Women’s Centre, shared similar sentiments in her reservations about how the plan would work at the grassroots level.

“It’s a big idea and a great idea, but I think it comes down to the province,” she said. “What does that look like when we have a national pharmacare program? What does that really mean on the ground? And who’s going to administer that? And if you have governments that don’t agree on how health care should be delivered how is that going to happen?”

With regards to the logistics about how a national pharmacare plan would play out, Duncan said it is definitely dependent on federal-provincial co-operation.

“It is about working with the provinces and territories. Health care is both."

She added that she believes the federal government has a good record of working well with the provinces and territories.

Rodriguez said while she has been more wholly in support of the NDP's plan for universal pharmacare this election period, she is happy with the new Liberal minority government and hopeful that the Liberals and New Democrats can work together to achieve these goals.

"I am counting on both Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Singh to do good on the promises they've been promising over the last 40 days," she added. 

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