Ontario not ‘writing off anything’ in national pharmcare talks

Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones makes an announcement on healthcare with Premier Doug Ford in the province in Toronto, Monday, Jan. 16, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Ontario’s health minister says she is still weighing the federal government’s national pharmacare program as she waits for details of the plan.

Minister of Health Sylvia Jones has repeatedly said she is willing to listen to Ottawa over the program but hasn’t made any decisions.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, she said she is “waiting for details” of the new national plan, which was tabled on Parliament Hill the same day.

The legislation, a key part of the federal NDP and Liberal confidence agreement, includes a framework for pharmacare coverage across the country and provisions to provide contraception, diabetes and devices like insulin pumps.

To put the plan into action, the federal government will need to negotiate and sign agreements with the country’s provinces and territories.

“We have a pretty robust system, particularly on the diabetes side with the assistive devices program,” Jones said Thursday, referencing OHIP+, a provincial plan that provides items including medication, inhalers or insulin to people 24 and under without other coverage.

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“So I need to see — we need to see — what the federal government is proposing and how it matches, conflicts, works with the Ontario system.”

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Earlier in the week, Jones had indicated she had yet to hear from her federal counterpart.

“I’ve had no conversations, no feedback, no memos, nothing directly from the federal minister,” the health minister said. “We are waiting for that so I know exactly what we are looking at in terms of our responsibilities and the federal responsibilities.”

On Thursday, she said she had had a “very brief” conversation with the federal health minister “a few nights ago” but reiterated her request for more concrete details.

“I was very clear with the minister when we spoke that I’m not writing off anything, but I’m also not buying into something where I don’t know exactly what’s there,” Jones said.

While Ontario is still mulling over the plan, Alberta has already said it does not plan to take part. Quebec has also said it will not take part because it already has its own provincial coverage for drugs.

Federal Health Minister Mark Holland said the introduction of a national plan was about “health equity” and “affordability” across Canada.

“That’s just a matter of social justice. Imagine the cost involved in that to our health system. And I don’t think that’s the kind of country we want to have. And that’s fundamentally about what we’re talking about today,” Holland said.

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Jones said she was interested in hearing more but wanted to ensure the introduction of a national plan, and associated negotiations, wouldn’t undo the plans her government already has in place.

“I want to make sure that those very valuable programs can continue in Ontario,” she said.

— with files from Global News’ David Baxter

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