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A person holds a pharmacare sign at a health-care rally on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Feb. 13.PATRICK DOYLE/The Canadian Press

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland says the pharmacare deal between the federal Liberals and the New Democrats will not jeopardize Canada’s fiscal standing, as her government prepares to table legislation this week for a program that is expected to cover diabetes and birth-control medications.

“It is very, very important to invest in supporting Canadians and to do so in a fiscally responsible way,” Ms. Freeland told reporters Sunday during a news conference in Warsaw.

Ms. Freeland’s comments mark the first time anyone from the government has commented on the agreement that became public on Friday, when NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh confirmed the two parties had reached a deal.

Legislation is expected to be tabled this week. Mr. Singh had previously warned if an agreement was not reached on pharmacare by March 1, his party would walk away from a confidence-and-supply arrangement that has kept the Liberal minority government in power.

A source with direct knowledge of the deal previously told The Globe and Mail that the pharmacare plan would cost more than $1-billion a year once it is implemented. The Globe is not identifying the source because they were not authorized to discuss the sensitive negotiations.

Mr. Singh said Friday that Canadians will soon be able to get their contraceptives and diabetes medications at a pharmacy without paying out of pocket.

The issue of how pharmacare will be paid for is expected to become a political issue, with Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre telling a radio station in Windsor, Ont., on Friday that the majority of Canadians “already have pharmaceutical coverage through their workplace or through provincial social services” and that pharmacare will result in “massive new bureaucracy.”

The plan has also faced opposition from some provincial governments, notably Quebec and Alberta, which have said they would opt out of a national pharmacare program if given the option.

An expert committee, with members agreed upon by both parties, is expected to be set up to advise on next steps for the implementation of the program, including how to pay for it. The Globe is not identifying the source because they were not authorized to discuss the talks.

Eric Hoskins, the former chair of an advisory council that put forward a roadmap on universal pharmacare in 2019, says the agreement amounts to major progress and will help millions.

Dr. Hoskins, a medical doctor who previously served as a Liberal health minister in Ontario, said in an interview that the deal amounts to a massive advance since medicare in the 1960s.

“It needs to be seen in that light and just how important and monumental it is,” he said.

Dr. Hoskins said for diabetes, which affects about one in 10 Canadians, patients will be able to access medications and supplies, such as needles and syringes, for no charge and without paying a deductible. He said that this will not only save lives but it will improve quality of life, reducing complications such as strokes, heart attacks and kidney disease that can result from the disease not being treated properly.

The challenge of trying to access medications crosses all forms of coverage, and cannot simply be described as applying to people who are not captured by plans, he added.

The advisory council found roughly one in five households had directly experienced problems in accessing medications where they were unable to afford them, Dr. Hoskins said, adding some patients end up skipping their doses or splitting pills as a result of cost.

“In this economy, where people are struggling with the cost of living, that access challenge has become even greater,” he said.

Jane Philpott, the dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Queen’s University who served as federal Liberal health minister when Dr. Hoskins’ advisory council was tasked with conducting its study, has long been a proponent of universal pharmacare. She said diabetes medications and birth control are two good categories with which to start.

“I think what I will be really watching for when we see the legislation is is it actually universal,” Dr. Philpott said. “The single-payer piece is enormously important.”

Anne McGrath, a lead negotiator for the NDP during pharmacare discussions, said her party was clear all along that was the model it wanted.

“I think the government has been quite resistant to that, for sure,” she said. “That was an issue that we had to resolve.”

Ms. McGrath did not expand on how that was settled during the negotiations and said that she could not comment on the forthcoming legislation.

Earlier this month, Health Minister Mark Holland said the government could not afford a “massively expensive program.”

After news broke of the Liberal and NDP agreement, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce released a statement that questioned how the new pharmacare deal squares with the government’s pledge of fiscal responsibility.

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

With reports from Marieke Walsh and The Canadian Press

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