Ottawa open to expanding pharmacare list – insurance industry reacts

Health critic highlights the impact of legislation on ensuring medication for Canadians

Ottawa open to expanding pharmacare list – insurance industry reacts

Life & Health

By Jonalyn Cueto

Health Minister Mark Holland has confirmed the federal government’s willingness to expand the list of medications covered under its proposed pharmacare program. The comments were made during a parliamentary committee meeting last week, where the Liberals’ pharmacare bill was under review.

Holland’s remarks came in response to Conservative health critic Stephen Ellis, who questioned the exclusion of semaglutide, an antidiabetic medication, from the list of covered drugs. The Canadian Press highlighted that the proposed pharmacare bill, introduced in February, aims to create a universal pharmacare plan that includes coverage for birth control and diabetes drugs and supplies. Notably, the bill does not cover Ozempic, a new semaglutide medication also used off-label for weight loss.

Holland emphasized that the current drug list is a starting point. “If there’s things you think should be on that list, I’m actually quite interested in having that conversation. Hopefully it would mean you support the legislation,” Holland told Ellis.

Ellis was critical of the legislation, responding, “Yeah, I don’t think we need to worry about that, because it’s bad legislation.” This exchange was one of several tense moments between the two, with Ellis pressing Holland on issues such as Canadians’ access to primary care and the drug approval process in Canada.

Holland challenged Ellis to provide the Conservative Party’s plan for ensuring access to medications. “Could you tell us what your plan is … to make sure that people who don’t have medication have medication?” he asked. Ellis retorted: “You’ll have your chance to ask me questions at some point when you’re sitting in the Opposition.”

The committee also heard from representatives of the insurance industry, who expressed concerns that the bill could disrupt existing private drug coverage. Stephen Frank, president and CEO of the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association, noted that while Holland had offered assurances that Canadians with current drug plans could keep them, the bill’s language was unclear.

“It repeatedly calls for universal single-payer pharmacare in Canada, with no mention of workplace benefit plans,” Frank said. He warned that the bill, as written, could create practical and legal challenges for maintaining existing drug benefits.

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