OTTAWA — The NDP have tabled a new bill that calls for a universal pharmacare plan in Canada.
The party, which has been promising the legislation for some time, says its proposal is based on the principles of the Canada Health Act.
"Millions of Canadians can't afford the medication that they desperately need, and they are forced to make an impossible choice between paying for their necessities like their rent or buying lifesaving medication," NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Monday.
"These principles lay out a path for having a universal pharmacare system that is universal, that is comprehensive, accessible, portable and publicly administered."
The bill would make provincial and territorial funding for pharmacare contingent on the lower-level governments' adherence to those principles.
It doesn't specify a particular arrangement for funding provincial and territorial governments that would have to administer the drug plan, but instead would give the federal government authority to negotiate with them.
Singh said the bill will result in significant health-care cost savings because Canadians will be taking the medication they need to stay healthy, and will also save on the rising cost of drugs.
"With a national drug agency able to negotiate prices, it will keep those prices down," he said.
The Liberal government also promised a pharmacare plan in the last election, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau included the initiative in Health Minister Patty Hajdu's mandate letter in December.
Singh has criticized the Liberals for dragging their feet on pharmacare and encouraged them to sign on to his bill to make it happen by 2022.
"This is so achievable," he said. "It's frankly unexplainable why we haven't done it to this point."
Health Minister Patty Hajdu was asked in question period whether the Liberal government plans to support the NDP bill.
"I'm very excited to be part of a government that is committed to making sure that people don't have to choose between medication and food,"Hajdu said in response.
"We've taken important steps toward that goal. We'll continue to work with all Canadians, and provinces and territories, to ensure that people have access to the medications they need."
Singh said a tangible commitment to pharmacare and appropriate funding will be a priority for the NDP in deciding whether to support the Liberals' upcoming budget.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 24, 2020.
Laura Osman, The Canadian Press