The Government of Alberta intends to opt out of a national pharmacare program, Health Minister Adriana LaGrange said during a news conference on Monday.

Under the national pharmacare program, some prescription drugs would be available free of charge at a pharmacy. The deal, part of a confidence-and-supply agreement between the federal Liberals and NDP, would initially cover diabetes medications and contraceptives.

LaGrange said she believes the federal government should have consulted with the province before agreeing to the program, and Alberta would not participate if the plan moves ahead.

The province already has a “robust” pharmacare program and “government-sponsored health benefit plans” available to all Albertans, LaGrange said, and the province wants the full per capita share to “enhance the programs we already have in existence,” rather than participate in the national program.

“Provinces across Canada have different pharmacare programs already in existence, with different service providers, etc. And this particular program does not take that into account,” she said.

Are all Albertans already covered?

Despite the thousands of public and private insurance plans offered across Canada, one in five Canadians don’t have prescription drug coverage, according to a report from Statistics Canada released earlier this year.

Chris Galloway, executive director of Friends of Medicare, said many more can’t afford private coverage or prescription costs, and called LaGrange’s statement “misleading.”

“To claim that all Albertans have access to drug coverage because they can buy a benefit plan if they can afford one is intentionally misleading and beyond offensive,” Gallaway said. ”This is not the same as all Albertans having universal access to afford the drugs they need through our public health care system, and the minister knows it.”

The report from StatCan also found that 7.5 million Canadians have to pay out-of-pocket because they are uninsured, and at times end up “borrowing money or trading off food, heat, rent or other health care expenses” to pay for prescriptions.

Carmen Wyton, chair of the Women’s Health Coalition of Canada, said access to contraceptives and reproductive health care are lacking for many women in the province, and that “even if it’s only a small percentage that doesn’t have access to it, then we need a contingency plan in place to make sure that they can they can get it when they need it, wherever they are in Alberta.”

In the absence of affordable, or free, contraceptives, women are more likely to rely on emergency options like therapeutic abortion as a form of birth control, “and that’s not healthy for anybody if it can be avoided,” she said.

“We just need to remember that women’s health is more about more than the ability to conceive. It’s about choice, and access to contraceptives needs to be a choice that is available to women,” she said.

“If the Government of Alberta is going to opt out of the pharmacare program, I hope they’re thinking very seriously about how they’re going to make sure that the programs that would have been funded, that improve health outcomes for Albertans, are addressed through other means.

“Whether through special access programs, or funding to agencies that can provide those services to to people living in Alberta with diabetes or wanting contraceptives, they have to have alternatives. It’s not good enough to just say we opt out of pharmacare. There has to be another plan.”

By Brett McKay, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Feb 28, 2024 at 10:45

This item reprinted with permission from   St. Albert Gazette   St. Albert, Alberta

Comments are Welcome - Use the 'Join the Discussion' above any replies, or 'TheRegional / Chat' below replies. Both links take you to the same place. You will be asked to become a registered user if you are not one already - Posts are moderated