NDP Rejects Liberals’ Initial Pharmacare Bill; Negotiations Continue Amid “Extremely Fluid” Talks

"Extremely Fluid" Talks

The federal New Democrats have turned down the first draft of the Liberals’ much-awaited pharmacare legislation, describing the ongoing discussions as “extremely fluid”. This comes in the backdrop of the supply-and-confidence deal the government inked with the NDP, promising to present pharmacare legislation this season.

Under this agreement, the government pledged to make “progress toward a universal national pharmacare program” and finalize the first round of legislation before the year concludes. However, according to the NDP health critic, Don Davies, the first draft did not live up to the New Democrats’ hopes.

“It doesn’t meet the New Democrats’ red lines at this point,” said Davies. “We’re waiting for a next draft to come to us.”

NDP Rejects Liberals' Initial Pharmacare Bill; Negotiations Continue Amid "Extremely Fluid" Talks
The New Democrats have rejected the first draft of the Liberal’s pharmacare legislation in what the health minister describes as extremely fluid negotiations over the highly anticipated bill. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh speaks to reporters in the foyer of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Davies emphasized the NDP’s stand, which demands a pharmacare system financed and governed by a public single-payer system, even if it’s introduced in phases. The New Democrats’ vision is to kickstart the program with essential medicines and gradually expand, while also insisting on including the plan’s timelines within the legislation.

When questioned about the model the forthcoming legislation might adopt, Health Minister Mark Holland remained non-committal, pointing out that circumstances might shift by the time the bill is introduced.

Holland mentioned his discussions with the NDP, saying, “That process is moving back and forth, and it’s extremely fluid, and it’s changing with every conversation that we have.”

Furthermore, Holland expressed confidence that the drafted legislation will act as a foundation for national pharmacare, hinting it might not be the final representation of the program. “What we announce will certainly not be the end of the story,” Holland noted. “When we get that work done and that foundation right, it means everything else can go up more quickly thereafter.”

There’s a myriad of possibilities the government could explore while crafting the bill. From the NDP’s preferred single-payer system to a broad-brushed legislation that doesn’t detail the execution of pharmacare.

Interestingly, back in 2019, an advisory council led by Dr. Eric Hoskins indicated a single-payer system as the apparent choice after examining the best pharmacare options. Hoskins stated, “It’s also consistent with virtually every commission or committee or expert group that has looked at this issue over the decades for Canada, in recommending a single-payer public model.”

To put things into perspective, a report from 2017 by the parliamentary budget officer calculated a pharmacare plan would incur an annual expense of $19.3 billion (if executed in 2015). In today’s value, the yearly cost is approximated between $23 billion and $27 billion.

Starting with just essential medicines would require an estimated $3.5 to $4.5 billion annually, covering approximately 50% of prescriptions. “That would be an enormous victory for Canadians,” Hoskins asserted, describing the impact as “transformational.”

While Holland refrained from giving an exact timeline for the legislation’s tabling, he assured commitment to the year-end deadline set in the supply-and-confidence agreement.