Albertans unsure on province’s plan to opt out of national pharmacare plan

The UCP government is not interested in the federal plan to introduce universal prescription drug coverage. Instead, the province plans to opt out of the program and take a cash payment to invest into it’s own pharmacare system.

By Elliott Knopp

Lesley Thompson has depended on Insulin to stay alive every day since she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at 14-years-old. It’s an expensive and vital treatment patients must pay for themselves.

When she got the news a federal pharmacare program would provide her with expanded medical coverage, she overtaken by a sense of relief.

“It was just this ray of hope. It’s like, oh my gosh, we’ll be able to afford more things, and not have to worry about, am I going to have to ration my medication,” said Thompson.

“This helps diabetics in Alberta and across the country that can’t afford what they need to take care of themselves.

But Alberta plans to opt out of the newly agreed upon federal pharmacare program, which in its first phase, would make diabetes medication and birth control free for everyone with a health care card.

The province insists it would make better use of the money by building upon its own pharmacare program and eliminating federal involvement.

“I don’t think the federal government understands that provinces do have processes in place. They’re looking to provide something different, which adds bureaucracy and administrative burden on top of what we already have,” said Adriana LaGrange, health minister.

Alberta’s health minister says the province already has a better pharmacare system than Ottawa’s proposal, offering more than 5,000 drugs, including the diabetes medication that Thompson needs to survive.

The UCP government instead wants to use federal funding to expand provincial pharmacare coverage on its own terms. Mainly, keeping Ottawa out, so control over health care stays in the hands of Alberta’s elected officials.

“Give us the dollars. We’ll spend it in those areas,” said LaGrange.

Nearly 1 in 6 Alberta women do not have medical insurance, according to the Edmonton zone medical staff association.

The province does have coverage programs, but advocates insist some of Alberta’s coverage eligibility requirements can prevent people from accessing financial assistance.

Thompson still wants to see what the federal coverage plan looks like, and how makes these products more accessible, before Alberta advances its vision of improved pharmacare.

“These things add up, and they’re not cheap, and they’re costly, and every little bit of savings helps,” said Thompson.

Additionally, the chambers of commerce in both of Alberta’s biggest cities, Calgary and Edmonton, are jointly calling on the province to hear out the feds coverage plan, saying it could provide an economic benefit and ease the burden on local businesses paying into employee benefits.

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