Contraceptives, diabetes medications could be covered if Liberals close NDP pharmaceutical deal

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

Posted on Wednesday, February 14, 2024 3:28 pm EST

Last updated Wednesday February 14, 2024 7:57 pm EST

OTTAWA – Negotiations over pharmaceutical care between the Liberals and the NDP are on a knife edge, with the main point of contention being the number of medications they plan to start with.

If the sides reach a deal, they plan to begin launching with a few select drug categories while continuing to formulate a more robust national drug plan, two sources with knowledge of the talks said.

The parties already agreed to cover birth control through a single-payer program in the first round, and are also in talks to include diabetes medications in the program.

The NDP is pushing for more drug categories to be included, but the Liberals have raised concerns about costs, said the sources, who were granted anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly about the closed deals.

There is also more work to be done to determine which drugs in each category would be eligible for the initial program.

“Every diabetic in this country wants to make sure they can get the insulin they need,” NDP health critic Don Davies said Wednesday.

“We want to make sure that every young woman who needs contraception can get the ones she needs. “This is the kind of thing we are working toward.”

The effects on this spring’s budget will depend on how many drugs are ultimately included in the deal, but the parties hope the drugs will be available before the next election.

The minority government must introduce pharmaceutical care legislation by March 1 if it hopes to maintain its political pact with the NDP and secure opposition party support in key votes.

The agreement serves as a way for the Liberals to protect themselves against an early election before the fall of 2025, when the next federal contest is due to take place.

As of Tuesday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he had no idea if they could reach a deal in time.

The NDP will continue working toward a deal “until the bell,” Davies said Wednesday.

The NDP has insisted that the proposed bill reference a universal single-payer system, recommended by an advisory council the Liberals appointed in 2018 to study the possible implementation of pharmacare.

The parties have been trying to come up with language in the bill that would create progress without ultimately locking the government into a program that is expected to cost roughly $40 billion a year once it is fully implemented.

Health Minister Mark Holland has repeatedly refused to discuss negotiations, but the Liberals have said they will table a bill by March 1.

All Holland said when asked about negotiations with the NDP on Tuesday was: “I think we’re moving toward common ground.”

The legislation was always intended to provide a framework for a future pharmaceutical care program.

“You won’t have all the answers and we won’t be in a position where we can take on massive costs,” Holland said at a news conference in Yellowknife.

The Liberals’ deal with the NDP initially called for pharmaceutical care legislation to be passed late last year, but the two parties disagreed on the text of the bill.

Instead, they agreed to delay the deadline by three months and only require that the legislation be submitted by then.

Singh said he would ask for more of the settlement because of the missed deadline. He did not specify what he meant by “more,” but said Tuesday that he would be “adjacent to pharmaceutical care.”

British Columbia already covers many contraceptives as part of its provincial pharmaceutical care program, and the Manitoba government has already committed to doing so as well.

Ontario also offers many contraceptives to people under 25 who do not have private insurance.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 14, 2024.

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