Prescription drug plan is looking like a costly boondoggle

I don’t use prescription drugs. The last time I got a prescription was over a decade ago. If I have a headache I take Advil, which I can buy at a reasonable price at any drug store. Even if I did need a prescription — and perhaps I will one day — I pay for my own prescription drug insurance. The monthly amount I pay covers both me and my husband and it is not onerous.

I am more than happy to pay my own way. In fact, everyone who has the means should be prepared to do the same.

I don’t need a new government social program. I don’t want a new government social program.

COMMENTARY: Pharmacare is a popular idea — so where do the parties stand?

The Liberal, Green, and New Democrat obsession with continually trying to buy everyone’s votes this election with the promise of universality is costly, unnecessary and should be rejected by all taxpayers.

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If nothing else, the Phoenix pay debacle should be proof that the federal government is completely incapable of establishing a complex system to process payments for its own employees, let alone all 37 million Canadians needing multiple prescription drugs. (The federal government does run several programs that cover about one million Canadians.)

I shudder to think of what would happen if the federal government abolished all the private sector insurance plans in Canada and instituted a federally-mandated, single-payer government monopoly.

Just think through the logistics of what would have to be done to create a single-payer drug insurance program from scratch.

Plus, existing provincial government plans are notoriously stingy when it comes to covering drugs, so I predict many drugs currently covered by private insurance plans would simply get dropped. That, in turn, will create extra pressure on the health system as people return for multiple trips to their family doctor to get new prescriptions that conform to the government formulary.

WATCH BELOW: The federal party leaders on pharmacare

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NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh suggests the program would be delivered by the provinces. That doesn’t solve the problem. The provinces don’t have the ability to seamlessly implement a single-payer drug insurance plan, either. Alberta has a not-for-profit private company that offers coverage under the auspices of Alberta Blue Cross. But it doesn’t offer universal coverage to every Albertan; scaling up would still be a monumental challenge. Plus it offers most services with a co-payment. It isn’t free.

According to the Parliamentary Budget Office, which analyzed the cost at the request of the Green Party, a universal pharmacare plan would cost $26.7 billion.

READ MORE: Green party’s pledge for universal pharmacare would cost $26.7B in 2020

So now we have a familiar story: Ottawa coming to the table to offer up a fraction of what it will cost to provide health care services but dictating 100 per cent of the way the program will be administered.

Singh’s plan involves paying $10 billion toward the cost. So, in essence, an NDP government would be asking provinces to tax their citizens $17 billion more to pay for this program. For Alberta, that would work out to $1.7 billion in new provincial spending at a time when we are already running a $6.7 billion deficit.

The Trudeau Liberals are worse, promising just $6 billion for pharmacare, guaranteeing a family doctor, and improving mental health services and palliative care. Alberta’s share of that money would be $600 million. The cost of our current health system is $20.4 billion. So $600 million extra is supposed to create universal pharmacare and solve all of our physician access problems? Once again, it’s the federal government paying a fraction of the cost and asking the provincial government to tax us more to deliver on it.

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Sorry, Ottawa. We’re broke. We can’t afford it.

CANADA ELECTION: Promises Trudeau, Scheer, Singh, May and Blanchet have made

The Conservatives want to increase provincial transfers, but they still want to micromanage how new money is spent with $1.5 billion in targeted money for MRIs and CT machines. What if that isn’t our provincial government’s priority? What if they would rather have more money for addictions treatment instead?

The People’s Party of Canada has the only sensible policy on health care. They say there is already too much federal meddling in health care. Rather than transfer more money, they would transfer the equivalent in tax points and allow provinces to raise their own money to pay for the priorities of their own citizens. Plus, Maxime Bernier wants to allow more private health care, which is ultimately the only way to get innovation and cost savings in health care. Right on.

Here’s a message for the other leaders: if you want to deliver health care, run for provincial office. Stop making promises that you can’t pay for and that taxpayers can’t afford.

CORRECTION: This commentary has been updated to state that the federal government runs several federal drug benefit programs.

Danielle Smith is host of The Danielle Smith Show on Global News Radio 770 Calgary. She can be reached at


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