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Ontario's Universal Drug Program Will Be The First Of Its Kind In Canada

Starting January 1, 2018, Ontarians age 24 and under will be able to get prescribed medications for free.

07/11/2017 09:48 EDT | Updated 07/11/2017 09:48 EDT
Mark Bowden

As we continue to celebrate Canada's 150th birthday, many of us find ourselves reflecting on what it means to be Canadian.

According to a recent CBC poll, along with peacekeeping our national health-care system was found to be among the most defining characteristics of our nation. We have former Saskatchewan Premier Tommy Douglas to thank for that. In 1962, he took a step that would forever change the course of Canadian history.

His government unveiled a comprehensive health insurance plan for Saskatchewan, so that no one would need to worry about whether they could afford to see a doctor. Within a few years, the federal government under Lester Pearson followed suit and Medicare was born, ensuring that every Canadian would have access to health care, regardless of their ability to pay.

But that work remains unfinished. Since the 1960s, experts, health care providers, leaders and citizens have all joined the chorus of voices calling out for what was always meant to be the next logical step of Medicare: universal coverage for prescription drugs.

I've been passionate about the need for pharmacare since I first entered medical school 30 years ago. Working as a physician, I've seen parents who clearly don't have the means to fill the prescription they need to treat their child's chest infection, or asthma, or chronic illness. Study after study has reaffirmed the need for action, indicating that at least one in 10 Canadians can't afford to fill their prescriptions. So since 2014, when I became Ontario's health minister, I have fought to put pharmacare on the national agenda.

I remain optimistic that one day we will achieve our goal of a national pharmacare program for all Canadians

Now as we mark Canada's 150th birthday, Ontario is heeding that decades-old call. Under the leadership of Premier Kathleen Wynne, our government is taking a bold leap forward to close the gap, making life more affordable for parents and ensuring a healthy start in life for our children and youth.

Starting January 1, 2018, Ontarians age 24 and under will be able to get prescribed medications for free. Over four million children and youth will have comprehensive access to more than 4,400 drugs -- our entire provincial drug formulary -- including those for treating cancer, rare diseases, epilepsy and mental illnesses. All that's needed is a prescription and a health card number.

As Canadians, we pride ourselves on our Medicare system. It embodies our shared belief that everyone should have access to health care, no matter what their circumstances. And pharmacare is one of the most important steps we can take to rededicate ourselves to that principle.

I remain optimistic that one day we will achieve our goal of a national pharmacare program for all Canadians. But until that day, I'm proud that our government -- as Tommy Douglas did so many years ago -- is blazing a new path with OHIP+: Children and Youth Pharmacare, the most significant expansion of Medicare in Canada since its creation 50 years ago.

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