Calgary, Edmonton chambers of commerce urge province to explore federal pharmacare

Click to play video: 'Alberta says it’ll opt-out of national pharmacare deal'
Alberta says it’ll opt-out of national pharmacare deal
Alberta Health Minister Adriana LaGrange says if the federal government pursues a national pharmacare program, the province intends to opt out and would seek a per-capita share of the funding. Morgan Black reports – Feb 26, 2024

The chambers of commerce in Alberta’s two largest cities are urging the provincial government to explore the federal pharmacare program.

In a joint statement, the Calgary and Edmonton chambers of commerce said the federal plan makes sense for businesses.

Alberta’s health minister has said the province intends to opt-out of the national program after not being consulted by the federal government.

The chambers, in their statement, said a well-developed national pharmacare program could benefit Alberta’s economy in light of the ongoing labour shortages, need to attract talent and costs to employers to provide health-related benefits.

“We need every advantage to remain a magnet for talent,” Calgary Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Deborah Yedlin said in a statement. “Ensuring Alberta is an attractive place for people to move remains critical for the success of businesses, and we cannot limit our ability to attract and retain the labour force we need.”

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The chambers said more than a quarter — 28.3 per cent — of Alberta businesses are still concerned about labour-related obstacles, their second-largest concern behind rising costs.

Speaking of costs, the chambers said between 15 and 30 per cent of payroll costs relate to providing employee benefits, and encouraged both governments to consider the potential cost implications of a pharmacare program.

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The businesses said there’s an element of fiscal responsibility to the federal program: “Given the disproportionately large share of taxes Albertans pay federally, Albertans should have the opportunity to partake in the benefits associated with their higher tax burden.”

And the chambers said improving the health of employees improves productivity.

“Alberta’s economic success hinges on the well-being of our workforce,” Doug Griffiths, president and CEO of the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce, said. “If people –including staff, entrepreneurs, and consumers – are not well supported, our economy can’t fire on all cylinders. We’ve learned this in spades over the past few years.”

The federal deal, first reported by The Canadian Press on Friday and announced by the federal NDP, included birth control and diabetes medications. No other details were released.

It’s part of a supply-and-confidence agreement between the Liberal government and the New Democrats.

On Tuesday at an unrelated press conference, Alberta Health Minister Adriana LaGrange reiterated a statement she published on social media.

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“We already provide over 5,000 drugs through our robust pharmacare program here in Alberta, which include diabetes medication, which includes birth control medication,” LaGrange said. “So, we would be absolutely willing to enhance those programs. All we need is the federal government to provide those dollars to us.”

According to data collected by Diabetes Canada, Alberta covers nearly all of the out-of-pocket costs for youth with Type 1 diabetes in household incomes of $30,000. But it covers none of the out-of-pocket costs for an adult with the same type of diabetes in households with income over $75,000, costs that run at around $6,500 a year. Alberta’s coverages are similar for those instances with Type 2 diabetes.

Alberta Blue Cross 2022 data shows diabetes is the top health condition based on amount paid.

According to a statement by the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association, Alberta’s support for low income prescription drugs are “insufficient.”

“They require a maximum income of $16,580 for a single adult household to $46,932 for a couple with four children to be eligible,” the EZMSA said.

And the EZMSA said AHS programs providing free birth control are not offered in the north zone, and Edmonton, Calgary and Central zones are oversubscribed.

–with files from Sean Boynton and David Baxter, Global News

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