Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from South Okanagan—West Kootenay.
Last Saturday, I attended the Forever Young Seniors Expo in Cranbrook, in my riding of Kootenay—Columbia. It was a wonderful event organized by Kootenay CARP in celebration of National Seniors Day. I spoke to many seniors at the event and to many advocates on seniors issues. There certainly are many issues facing retired people today. CARP, which is the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, has a list of 10 advisory items that it wants the members of the House to address. Let me go over them briefly.
The first is retirement income security. Pensions and the guaranteed income supplement, or GIS, must increase. As members heard in a question I asked earlier this week, it is essential the government consider how critical it is for payments like GIS to be made consistently, every month. Many Canadians do not have enough savings to carry them beyond one month if they miss a cheque. However, every time the Canada Revenue Agency decides to review a case or make a change to a file, it stops the monthly payments that many of our seniors depend on, including for buying prescription drugs. This leaves seniors and other pensioners forced to choose between their rent, groceries, and prescription medications. Consistency is important, and so is the amount of income pensioners receive.
CARP's second item is the transformation of our health care system. It recognizes that reductions in federal health transfers to the provinces are putting undue pressure on the entire system. At the same time, private clinics are working through the courts to overturn our cherished universal health care. This is extremely worrisome to today's seniors.
Improved home care is another program that would save Canadians money. CARP points out that we need to do everything we can to keep seniors in their homes by supporting everything from Meals on Wheels to the United Way's better at home program. Improved home care would keep many seniors out of hospital, freeing up expensive hospital beds. It would provide better services for seniors, while reducing wait times and health care costs.
Prescription medication also impacts hospital times. I will get to that a bit more a little later.
Linked to home care, CARP wants to see better support for caregivers, which is why the NDP's push for a $15 an hour minimum wage is so important. It would help ensure caregivers earn better pay.
CARP's sixth point is better opportunities for older workers—other than running for political office, of course.
The seventh on the list is to make our cities more age-friendly by improving accessibility for people who use wheelchairs and walkers.
Investor protection is also on CARP's list. It gives an example of a 93-year-old woman who was able to negotiate a mortgage, but the bank refused life insurance protection. That is simply not acceptable.
The NDP has spoken often of the need for improved end-of-life care. We support a national palliative care strategy to accompany the current physician-assisted suicide laws. We are pleased to see that CARP has made end-of-life care a priority.
Similarly, and as part of a national mental health strategy, CARP asks for a national dementia care strategy. As Canada's senior population grows larger, the incidence of dementia grows larger as well. Now is the time to respond better to this health care crisis.
I skipped over one of CARP's top priorities, but it is the issue that brings us here today, which is the need for a universal pharmacare program.
Let me take a quick moment to read our motion again for those who may have just tuned in at home. It states:
That, given that millions of Canadians lack prescription drug coverage, and given that overwhelming evidence, including from the Parliamentary Budget Officer, has concluded that every Canadian could be covered by a universal pharmacare program while saving billions of dollars every year, the House call on the government to commence negotiations with the provinces no later than October 1, 2018, in order to implement a universal pharmacare program.
Many of my NDP colleagues have already covered the basic issues: we are the only nation that has universal health care that does not include universal pharmacare, and a pharmacare program would save money. The parliamentary budget officer made that very clear this week with a groundbreaking report that said Canadians can have a universal pharmacare system for billions of dollars less than we now pay for prescriptions. In fact, the PBO estimates conservatively that Canadians would save $4.2 billion a year with a national pharmacare system.
Here is the kicker. I think the PBO got it wrong. When I read the PBO's report, I see it missed an important reason why pharmacare would save money. Let me explain.
We know that many doctors will keep patients in hospitals longer, including seniors, because they need to take prescription medications and patients in hospitals get their medications for free. They are covered under health care in every province. However, the moment patients are released, they have to buy their own medications. Doctors know that many patients do not have private insurance to pay for medications and that even programs that provide medications to seniors do not bear the full cost. Therefore, patients who are released from the hospital may or may not keep taking the life-saving medications they need. As a result, doctors often keep these patients in the hospital longer than they would otherwise need to be there. There is a cost to this.
According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, hospital care in Canada costs about $63 billion a year. On average, the cost of a hospital stay is about $6,000 per day. This is a significant cost, and it could be a significant saving. Introducing a national pharmacare program would lower the health care costs for taxpayers while at the same time freeing up hospital beds and reducing wait times for patients. That is a win-win-win situation. The PBO's excellent report did not include these savings. Therefore, we can assume that the $4.2 billion each year that it estimates Canadians would save would be higher.
The PBO's report was not the first to state the benefits Canada would receive if we adopt a universal pharmacare program. Speaking lightly, I might suggest that the PBO got it wrong. However, the report was incredibly well thought out and extremely important. It tells us that pharmacare would have significant savings for Canadians because of the increased spending power it would offer. A single buyer for all medications in Canada would be able to negotiate with the drug companies to push the costs of medications down. The report estimates that Canadians can negotiate savings of 25% over what we are now paying for drugs. However, in Quebec, the province just negotiated a 40% savings. Therefore, the cost savings to Canadians may prove to be much more than the PBO estimated.
There is an urgent need for pharmacare. Yesterday, I met with some of my constituents from Cranbrook and Nelson here in Centre Block. Some of them are nurses. One of them is on multiple medications. They all said how important this was to them.
Canada currently has the second highest rate of skipped prescriptions due to cost among comparable countries. One in five Canadians report that either they or a family member neglect to fill prescriptions due to cost. In the past, my home province of B.C. has had the highest levels of problems accessing prescription drugs, with 29% of citizens, mostly the young, the elderly, and the poor, unable to afford necessary prescriptions. Of course, we pay some of the highest prescription drug prices in the industrialized world. Therefore, we know the problem, we know the solution, and we just need the political will.
The Angus Reid Institute recently completed a poll that found 91% of Canadians support the introduction of a universal pharmacare program. There are many supporters of pharmacare, including Canadian Doctors for Medicare, the Canadian Diabetes Association, and the Heart and Stroke Foundation. All of them have said that having a national pharmacare system is important to the health of Canadians.
Nationally, highly respected organizations that work for better care in Canada support pharmacare, doctors support pharmacare, and 91% of Canadians support pharmacare. Today I ask my colleagues on all sides of this chamber when they will join them and support pharmacare as well. This is an excellent time for you to do that.