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Analysis

Doctors, Nurses and Journalists Call Out Bill Morneau’s ‘Phony’ Pharmacare Plan

Bill Morneau is having a really bad day

In less than 24 hours, Bill Morneau may have set a new world record for fastest broken promise since Justin Trudeau’s Liberals came to power in 2015.

Consider the Finance Minister’s national pharmacare pledge in Tuesday’s federal budget – the Liberal government announced they’ll explore the idea of pharmacare, noting Canadians face “some of the highest costs among the world’s most advanced countries.”

Who could be opposed to that? Over 300 health professionals and academics called on Justin Trudeau to bring in a “universal, public pharmacare system” last year.

The pharmacare announcement generated news stories suggesting it lays the “foundation for a universal pharmacare plan” plus declarations that “universal pharmacare could be coming to Canada.”

Well, it turns out those headlines got a few details wrong:

• The Budget does not actually say the government will ever create a national pharmacare plan, it only says they’ll create an Advisory Council to explore the idea – besides, the government has already been studying the idea for the last two years.

• Whatever options the Advisory Council come up with by 2019, the Budget makes no money available to guarantee any of it will ever be implemented.

• After rolling out the vague plan, the next morning Morneau ruled out any possibility it will be a universal pharmacare plan – slew-footing the Advisory Council’s work before the’ve even had a chance to look at the evidence.

• Oh, and Morneau says it is not a “plan,” it is a “strategy.” Got that?

Unfortunately, pharmacare that isn’t universal isn’t quite pharmacare – as Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Officer pointed out last year, savings from a pharmacare plan would come from buying pharmaceuticals in bulk, lowering the costs for everyone.

By Wednesday afternoon, a number of groups that were initially encouraged by the the pharmacare plan were calling on Morneau to step aside.

In a joint letter, the Canadian Labour Congress, Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions and Canadian Doctors for Medicare slammed Morneau’s “sharp turn away from the evidence-based pharmacare recommendations that every commission ever convened on the topic has made.”

They also called on Morneau to “recuse himself from the pharmacare file” over a “perceived conflict of interest” connected to his “deep ties” with Morneau Shepell.

Meanwhile, here’s how observers in the media reacted to all of this:

The Ottawa Citizen’s David Reevely:

“The new federal budget promises a national pharmacare program without promising any money to pay for one … It sets aside nothing for anything Hoskins’ group might propose. Zero dollars.”

Globe and Mail health reporter Andre Picard:

“Note that the only promise here is to study an issue that has been studied to death. There is no money and no firm commitment to do anything.”

Maclean’s Magazine’s Murad Hemmadi:

“Is Ottawa studying pharmacare to death?”

Global News’ Monique Scotti:

“Observers were expecting some big potential developments on this file after it was reported that Budget 2018 would include the first small steps toward a national pharmacare program to cover the cost of prescription medications.

Those first steps are definitely baby ones.”

The National Post’s John Ivison:

“The Liberals have proven over the past two years, policies are adopted to get elected, not necessarily to be implemented.”

Not to mention these comments on Twitter:

Good grief.

 

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