Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Churchill—Keewatinook Aski.
In the days before medicare, we saw our neighbours suffer because they could not afford the health care they needed. We saw people lose their homes, their farms and their businesses as they struggled to pay their medical bills. We saw illness destroy entire families. Today, decades later, as we look across the country we see the pain of inaccessible and unaffordable health care once again.
Millions of families cannot afford to take the medications they need because they have no employer-provided drug coverage. The number of uninsured people forced to skip their medications is growing as more people work on contract, are self-employed or have jobs that just do not come with health benefits. Too many seniors are putting their health at risk because they do not have job coverage and cannot afford to pay out of pocket. One in five Canadians either has no prescription drug coverage at all or has inadequate coverage for medication needs. That is 7.5 million people.
I met one gentleman in my riding of London—Fanshawe who really highlighted this issue for me. He was injured on the job. Thankfully his employer had health benefits that would cover some of his recovery. He wanted and needed to get back to work even though he was not well enough, because he knew that he was up against the clock and his employer's health benefits would soon run out. He would have to make the impossible choice of going back to work, further risking his health and the health and safety of others, or paying out of pocket with money he just did not have, throwing himself into deeper poverty.
Sadly, this story is not anything new. That is why on clinical, ethical and economic grounds universal public drug coverage has been recommended by commissions, committees and advisory councils dating as far back as the 1940s. Health policy experts are clear: A U.S.-style, private patchwork approach will cost more and deliver inferior access to prescription drugs.
It is why New Democrats have always understood that health care must be a right in Canada, not a privilege. We have been calling for universal public drug coverage since our founding convention in 1961.
Today, Canada is the only wealthy country in the world with a universal health care system that lacks universal prescription insurance coverage. We pay the third-highest prices for drugs in the world and have to deal with a patchwork of programs and coverage, if we are lucky enough to have coverage at all.
For 10 years, instead of addressing the growing costs of drug coverage, the Conservatives made the problem worse by reducing health care funding to the provinces and undermining efforts towards a national approach to pharmaceutical pricing. Now, the Liberal government has spent four years stalling, promising lower drug costs but delivering delays and more of the same piecemeal system that is failing Canadians and costing us more.
We see the direct cost of this inaction in our hospitals and our communities. With people unable to get the medicine they need, they turn to our emergency rooms. When patients cannot afford their prescription drugs, they access provincial and territorial health systems more often as their conditions deteriorate. In 2016, about 303,000 Canadians had additional doctor visits, about 93,000 sought care in the emergency department and 26,000 were admitted to hospital after being forced to forgo prescription medication due to cost.
HealthCareCAN, the national voice of health care organizations and hospitals across Canada, estimates that between 5.4% and 6.5% of hospital admissions in Canada are the result of cost-related non-adherence to prescription medication, resulting in costs of approximately $1.6 billion per year.
One in five Canadian households reports a family member who, in the past year, has not taken a prescription medication due to its cost. Nearly three million Canadians per year are unable to afford one or more of their prescription drugs. With a system that still struggles with mental health supports, we see people on the streets and in our correctional systems when what they really need is help.
In London, Victoria Hospital of the London Health Sciences Centre has a significant overcapacity problem, with more mental health patients than beds for 179 of the last 181 days. The hospital's average capacity on any given night was around 111%.
We see the desperate need for a national, single-payer, universal pharmacare program. I believe my colleagues across the way believe that we need one too. I am so glad to hear that they will be supporting our motion today.
Why would Liberals keep promising to bring forward a national pharmacare program for the last 23 years? Why would Liberals propose study after study, after commission, after advisory committee if they did not see a need for pharmacare? That is, unless they are constantly studying the program to make it look like they are considering the issue and have no intention of implementing it. This is my great fear.
Liberals have been promising pharmacare since 1997, but I wonder how long they have been making promises to big pharmaceutical and insurance companies to secure their skyrocketing profits. We know that drug costs have increased every year the Liberals have been in power since 2015, and in that same time the Liberals have met with companies from the pharmaceutical and insurance industries more than 875 times.
New Democrats have a clear plan on how to implement pharmacare. In fact, our plan is laid out by the Liberals' own Hoskins report. We are so committed to ensuring this happens that, immediately following the last election, the NDP began working to draft a framework to make a universal, comprehensive and public pharmacare program a reality. It was the first private member's bill that my colleague, the member for New Westminster—Burnaby, put forward and I thank him so much for his hard work. I thank my colleague, the member for Vancouver Kingsway, for the hard work he has done on this file, not only in putting forward this motion today but for his work on the health committee in the last Parliament.
The NDP's national pharmacare act is modelled after the Canada Health Act, again as recommended in the report of former Ontario Liberal health minister Hoskins. After all the studies and commissions, if we read the report, it lays out a very clear path on how to implement pharmacare. A plan should follow the same principles that are the bedrock of our public health care system: universality, comprehensiveness, accessibility, portability and public administration.
What also comes out of the endless reports and studies is that, beyond the positive impacts on health and fighting poverty, pharmacare will save Canadians and businesses money. Universal, comprehensive and public pharmacare will reduce annual system-wide spending on prescription drugs by $5 billion through the negotiation of lower drug prices, increased generic substitution and use of biosimilars and other shifts in prescribing toward lower-cost therapies. It will stimulate our economy by reducing prescription drug costs for businesses and employees by $16.6 billion annually and reduce out-of-pocket costs for families by $6.4 billion, according to that same Hoskins report.
When we consider the average median household income in London—Fanshawe is under $60,000 a year, and $30,000 per individual per year, it is well below the Canadian and Ontario average and this would be a huge boost to people in my riding. I think of the many seniors in London—Fanshawe that I have talked to, either on their doorsteps or in my constituency office. They tell me about how the cost of everyday items continues to increase while their incomes remain the same. The cost of drugs continues to be the fastest-growing expense for people and for families. Average drug costs are increasing by 4% every year. On average, Canadian households spend $450 a year on prescription drugs and $550 on private health plan premiums, which is a combined average of $1,000. Private premiums have risen rapidly in recent years, thanks largely to escalating drug prices, and are taking a growing bite out of workers' take-home pay.
After decades of delay, we have a historic opportunity in this minority Parliament to finally deliver for Canadians. We can come together and deliver, lifting people up in a real way and at the same time creating a healthier Canada. It is time for this Parliament to have the courage to put forward this program, to strengthen our health care system, strengthen our economy and strengthen our communities.