National pharmacare deal ‘promising’ for Manitobans, advocate says

Click to play video: 'National pharmacare deal ‘promising’ for Manitobans, advocate says'
National pharmacare deal ‘promising’ for Manitobans, advocate says
An uphill battle may soon level out a little in Manitoba after a federal agreement to introduce the first piece of a national pharmacare program. – Feb 26, 2024

An uphill battle may soon level out a little in Manitoba after a federal agreement to introduce the first piece of a national pharmacare program.

On Friday, the federal NDPs and Liberals shook hands on the program, which includes coverage for birth control and diabetes medication.

Molly McCracken, a board member of the Manitoba Health Coalition (MHC), said this will reduce barriers to health care in Manitoba.

“Currently in Manitoba, if you don’t have coverage, you have to pay a deductible to get access to the pharmacare plan. For some people, that’s a barrier. There’s also drugs that aren’t covered on the formulary, and people pay out of pocket for that.

“So particularly now when we’re in an affordability crisis, it’s very important that the government move forward on this as quickly as possible.”

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McCracken said this will also free up the provincial wallet after the new NDP government campaigned on a promise to provide free contraceptives.

“They had estimated that would be about $11 million a year. So now with the federal government stepping in to say they will provide that, that allows Manitoba to expand their access,” she said.

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“We just hope that Manitoba uses that new federal money to expand access here, because we know there’s so many pressing needs for our health system.”

She added that she hopes the province doesn’t use the money to cut services, but doesn’t anticipate it will.

In October last year, The Canadian Press reported that the program would cost federal and provincial governments an additional $11.2 billion in the first year, and $13.4 billion in five years, but also lead to economy-wide savings.

McCracken said when it comes to birth control alone, “for every dollar spent, there’s $9 in savings.” She said this is because “there can be health concerns, or other concerns, if people aren’t able to control their reproductive health.”

Birth control is known for its capacity to help women manage medical conditions like heavy menstrual bleeding, painful periods and endometriosis or fibroids.

However, Alberta has already said it intends to opt out of the pharmacare program, instead wanting a full per capita share of the funding, saying the program adds costs to provinces.

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In an emailed statement, Manitoba’s minister of health, Uzoma Asagwara said “we welcome any federal support that will lower costs for Manitobans and help them access medication they need. Our government campaigned on free birth control for every Manitoban, and we remain committed to making it happen.

“Once federal legislation is introduced and passes, we’ll review it to understand how it impacts Manitoba families.”

McCracken said a national pharmacare plan is long overdue.

“Canada is the only country with a national health-care program that doesn’t also have a national pharmacare plan,” she said.

“It’s very promising that this is finally moving forward here, and starting with birth control and diabetes medication is a good start. We look forward to seeing the rest of the plan.

“It’s been five years since the federal government’s been working on this.”

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