07/22/2016 11:09 EDT | Updated 07/22/2016 11:59 EDT

Millennials Need Pharmaceutical Coverage Too

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By Melisa Foster, Global Public Affairs

An estimated one in 10 Canadians cannot afford their prescriptions -- that's one in four if uninsured.

You may be thinking, I have benefits, why should I care? Unfortunately, Canada's current economic and fiscal environments mean things are changing. The consequent unemployment and underemployment rates have resulted in an increasing number of Canadians who have lost, or have been forced to go without, prescription drug coverage.


One in 10 Canadians can't afford their prescriptions.

Currently, millennials (those aged 18-34) who more regularly take low to middle-income jobs, or work part-time, are most likely to be underinsured, or to have no insurance at all. Low incomes, job insecurity, high cost of living, record level debt and insufficient savings are all barriers many millennials face when accessing necessary prescription drugs.

Is a pan-Canadian, or universal prescription drug strategy the solution to help address these gaps in coverage?

Your postal code and your socioeconomic status continue to dictate your ability to access the medication you need.

This week, Canada's premiers are attending the summer meeting of the Council of the Federation (CoF). With increased engagement from Ottawa, this meeting provides provinces with an opportunity to address complex intergovernmental policy issues facing Canadians. Despite the inclusion of health care on this year's agenda, few Canadians will be paying attention. This is a problem.

Pharmacare, a subject commonly bypassed by government and misunderstood by Canadians, even by those directly affected, is back on the agenda and people from coast-to-coast are not participating in a conversation that could change the course of their lives.

Understandably, prescription drug coverage only becomes a concern for many individuals when they can't access the drugs they need because of cost. If you haven't personally experienced problems with drug coverage, there is a high probability that your child, friend or loved one has.

These obstacles are further compounded by our nation's patchwork pharmacare system. Provinces, territories and the federal government each fund drug therapy for a distinct portion of the population. Your postal code and your socioeconomic status continue to dictate your ability to access the medication you need.

Like many recent graduates, it wasn't long ago that I was without comprehensive drug coverage. While I was lucky to have access to the medication I needed through other means, not everyone can. Today, securing a job is only a small part of the greater challenge young Canadians face in accessing coverage, because the increased prevalence of precarious employment means decreased economic and social benefits for employees.


Almost half of millennials have issues accessing employee drug plans.

According to a recent Statistics Canada labour force survey, approximately 39 percent of workers 15 to 29 are precariously employed. That means that almost half of millennials between 15 and 29 are part-time, temporary or self-employed workers, and likely don't have access to employer-run private health insurance plans. Too many are forced to pay out of pocket for prescription drugs they can't afford to go without.

Health professionals, patients, governments and other key organizations have participated in debates to increase access to prescription drug coverage since the 1960s. Like many previous health policy changes, a call for change is often slow and underwhelming, but that's no excuse for why Canada has failed to provide its youth with the necessary means to reach their full potential.

With premiers meeting to discuss pharmacare this week, its time Canadians educate themselves on this issue and even more important that Millennials start paying attention.

Melisa is a Consultant, Health and Life Sciences, with Global Public Affairs in Toronto. She has extensive knowledge in public affairs, strategic communications and public policy. Melisa is also a Communication's, Media and Marketing Lead on Toronto's Emerging Health Leaders (EHL) Executive and is involved with Sunnybrook Next Generation. She holds a Bachelor of Public Affairs and Policy Management from Carleton University and a Master in International Public Policy from the Balsillie School of International Affairs, Sir. Wilfrid Laurier University.

For more information on the pharmacare debate in Canada read our latest paper: Pharmacare: Lost in Translation

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