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The NDP and Liberals say they have reached a deal to introduce the first piece of a national pharmacare program, which will include federal funding for a broad range of contraceptives and diabetes medications.

The pharmacare pact keeps alive the so-called supply and confidence agreement in which the NDP has propped up the minority government in the House of Commons in exchange for key policy concessions. The two parties had until March 1 to reach a deal on pharmacare or the NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh had warned the entire agreement would be voided.

As The Globe and Mail first reported last week, the new pharmacare program will include funding for diabetes medications and contraceptives. In an interview with The Globe Friday, Mr. Singh said people will soon be able to get their contraceptives and diabetes medication at a pharmacy without paying out of pocket.

“This is a bold, big step. This is historic,” Mr. Singh said.

The details of the program will be revealed in legislation that will be tabled in the House of Commons next week. Health Minister Mark Holland’s office declined to comment on the agreement until the legislation is introduced, citing parliamentary privilege.

A precise timeline for the program’s implementation is still to be released but Mr. Singh said it would happen quickly and “absolutely before the next election.” He said the federal government will need agreement from the provinces to roll out the program.

Mr. Singh said he was not at liberty to disclose the cost of the program, but a source with direct knowledge of the deal said it will cost taxpayers more than $1-billion annually once its implemented. The Globe is not identifying the source because they were not authorized to discuss the sensitive negotiations. The fine print of the pharmacare deal is still being finalized.

The NDP said the deal will mean that people no longer have to pay for prescription birth control, intrauterine devices, the morning-after pill and the abortion pill.

On diabetes medication, Mr. Singh said a “broad range” of drugs will be covered, including insulin, insulin-like medication and affiliated medicines. He did not specify which medicines would fall under those categories. However, the NDP said Ozempic, which is a drug used to treat adults with Type 2 diabetes, will not be covered under the agreement.

Recent polling has shown that a new pharmacare program is not a priority for most Canadians who, according to the Leger survey, would prefer new health care money to go to improve surgical wait times, senior care and mental health services. Mr. Singh said the result of such polling doesn’t take into account how access to prescription drugs affects other health care services.

For example, he pointed out that fewer people skipping their medicine will alleviate pressures on emergency rooms and surgical units because people will be getting care before they get very sick and require hospitalization.

According to Statistics Canada, as of 2021, 21 per cent of Canadians reported not having any insurance to cover medication costs. It also said 17 per cent of Canadians reported delaying or skipping doses because of costs.

Almost two years ago, the NDP agreed to a supply and confidence agreement with the government in exchange for key policy concessions on things like anti-scab legislation, dental care and pharmacare.

Under the deal, the Liberals agreed to continue “progress towards a universal national pharmacare program by passing a Canada Pharmacare Act.”

Two sources with direct knowledge of the talks said the legislation will not create a universal national pharmacare program. Instead, it takes steps toward such a program by legislating single-payer coverage for the specific diabetes and contraceptive treatments.

The Globe is not identifying the sources because they were not authorized to discuss the negotiations.

However, Mr. Singh said what his party agreed to in these talks meets the expectations of the supply and confidence agreement and goes even further because the Liberals had not initially pledged to fund any element of pharmacare.

“The general framework legislation that we wanted is happening,” Mr. Singh said, adding that the legislated funding of diabetes and contraceptives is embedded within it.

The agreement brings to an end weeks of protracted negotiations in which the NDP repeatedly threatened to walk away from the entire supply and confidence agreement. Mr. Singh’s hard line on the talks was mandated by his party’s grassroots at their convention last fall.

The pharmacare legislation was originally supposed to be passed by the end of 2023 but the NDP agreed to extend the deadline to allow for more talks. Neither the government nor the NDP have disclosed a new deadline to pass the legislation.

A separate source with direct knowledge of the discussions said an expert committee, whose members will be agreed upon by both parties, will advise on next steps for pharmacare implementation, including how to pay for it. The Globe is not identifying the source because they were not authorized to discuss the talks.

The Liberal government’s fall economic statement did not set aside new funding for pharmacare, and the fiscal framework for future years left relatively little room for major new spending.

Liberals have for years pledged to implement pharmacare but made little progress in doing so. A panel struck during their first mandate in government found that such a program would cost $15.3-billion a year if fully implemented in 2027.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said in an interview on Windsor’s AM 800 CKLW that the majority of Canadians “already have pharmaceutical coverage through their workplace or through provincial social services.”

“My worry is that employers will say, ‘Look, you’re getting a plan through the government, we’re going to kick you off our plan.’”

Mr. Poilievre said this will mean “a worse plan that covers less” and charges higher deductibles, as well as building up a “massive new bureaucracy.”

The Council of Canadians and Canadian Labour Congress issued separate statements celebrating the news of a pharmacare deal.

Labour Congress president Bea Bruske said funding for medicines will “profoundly impact the lives of Canadians by making healthcare more accessible and affordable.”

“The urgency of this victory cannot be overstated,” she said.

However, the Montreal Economic Institute said in a report Thursday that imposing a government-funded pharmacare program would hurt the quality of coverage for people who currently have private plans because the plans tend to cover more treatments than those run by governments.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce released a statement Friday that echoed that concern and questioned how the new pharmacare deal squares with the government’s pledge of fiscal responsibility.

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