Eight weeks into the shutdown, the prescriptions Canadians got filled before the pandemic or in its early days are starting to run low.
For those who rely on those medications to stay healthy, or even to stay alive, this is a new and personal health crisis stacked on top of a very public one. After all, those with underlying health problems are most at risk if they contract the coronavirus.
In many ways, COVID-19 has exposed the inequities in our society. It has taken the cracks in our society and blown them wide apart – including access to medications.
As we enter the second month during the pandemic that rent has come due, more and more workers are being forced to decide between paying the rent, putting food on the table or buying their medications. It’s a terrible and potentially dangerous decision to be forced to make.
Those workers who relied on workplace drug plans, but lost their jobs due to COVID-19, could soon be faced with sky high bills to get their prescriptions.
On top of that, many patients are finding their treatments and tests for potentially life-threatening conditions such as cancer and heart disease being put off indefinitely. Once hospitals fully reopen, there will likely be a backlog on procedures and a long and dangerous wait ahead for patients, all of which only adds to their health worries.
At the same time, businesses everywhere are suffering. Those with workers still on drug plans could use the financial break that a Pharmacare plan would bring, both now and after the pandemic as we rebuild the economy.
Millions of Canadians currently paying into workplace health plans would also see more money in their pockets with Pharmacare, which would give them more spending power to get the economy going after the pandemic.
In short, a pandemic Pharmacare plan would help a lot of people.
The model for bringing in Pharmacare has been set by other programs during the pandemic – fast action to address immediate needs while we work on longer-term plans for the post pandemic world.
To serve this immediate need, Unifor is calling on all provinces to work with the federal government to expand existing prescription plans to include all workers, waive all dispensing and similar fees and ensure that all workers who lost workplace drug plans due to COVID-19 can stay in those plans.
We can move fast on this – and we must – but the fact is that the need for a comprehensive Pharmacare plan existed well before the pandemic, and has only been made worse by the crisis.
Already before the pandemic, eight million Canadians had no work-place drug plan, and three million did not fill all their prescriptions or take all their needed medications because of the cost. Those numbers have no doubt increased during the pandemic.
Our current Medicare program was set up to serve a hospital-based medical system, but our medical system has evolved since then and now relies more on medications and prescriptions. To stay meaningful, Medicare also needs to evolve to include Pharmacare.
We can get there, but in the meantime we need to address the current situation and ensure that the pandemic isn’t putting anyone at added undue risk because they can’t get the medications they need.