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Dr. Eric Hoskins, chair of the Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare, is accompanied by Vincent Dumez, member of the Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare, during a press conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on June 12, 2019.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The doctor and former Ontario health minister tapped by the federal Liberals for advice on the rollout of national pharmacare says he is confident the program will be highlighted in the Throne Speech next week setting out the government’s future plans.

Dr. Eric Hoskins, who chaired an advisory council that produced a government-commissioned report calling for a single-payer national pharmacare program in 2019, told The Globe and Mail on Wednesday the pandemic only underscores the need for a universal system.

“I am pretty confident and certainly hopeful that it will be re-emphasized and re-committed to … in the upcoming Throne Speech and then reflected in the budget,” Dr. Hoskins said, noting COVID-19 put numerous Canadians out of work and without drug benefits.

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“In all of my discussions, I continue to see commitment to realize universal pharmacare for Canadians."

Dr. Hoskins said Wednesday the “big ticket” would be a government commitment to contribute $3.5-billion annually to cover essential medications, or roughly half of prescriptions written.

The time for action is now, Dr. Hoskins added, noting the federal Liberals committed to pharmacare in the Liberal platform during the last election, in the last Throne Speech and in Health Minister Patty Hajdu’s mandate letter.

“The arguments for pharmacare have never been stronger and these moments to act don’t come up all that often," he said.

"It is achievable; we have a road map; we know the benefits; we know the government can get it across the finish line.”

In 2019, Dr. Hoskins chaired an advisory council on the implementation of national pharmacare. It stated that such a program would cost $15.3-billion if fully implemented in 2027.

One of the report’s top recommendations was that Ottawa needed to work with provincial and territorial governments to establish a universal, single-payer, public system of prescription drug coverage.

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At the time of the report’s release, Dr. Hoskins also called for governments to transform, rather than tinker, with a patchwork of prescription-drug plans to create a public plan for every Canadian.

On Tuesday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh pointed to pharmacare as an example of when the Liberals hint at their intentions but fail to follow through.w

“If the government announces something on that, or talks about that, I won’t be surprised," he said. "They did that in the campaign. But where has the action been?”

Universal pharmacare would have the support of the federal New Democrats in a minority Parliament and it is important to build a stronger country, Dr. Hoskins said Wednesday.

Governor-General Julie Payette will deliver a Throne Speech next week detailing the government’s broad vision for the country.

In August, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Parliament was to be prorogued, making the argument that a reset was required to take into account the new realities of the COVID-19 era.

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On Wednesday, Mr. Trudeau did not provide many details when asked about the level of commitment to pharmacare in the speech.

“We will have lots to say about the priorities of this government and the continued priorities of this government in our upcoming Throne Speech,” Mr. Trudeau said following a cabinet meeting.

“The world has changed in many ways over the past number of months with this COVID crisis which requires us to set forward a new Throne Speech, which is what we are going to be doing.”

The Prime Minister also cited a concern for the most vulnerable in Canadian society, adding that weaknesses and gaps in the social safety net have been exposed during the pandemic.

Dr. Hoskins said Wednesday his advisory council estimated at the time of its report that 20 per cent, or one in five, struggled to pay for their medicines.

Some Canadians have had to take measures such as splitting their pills or not taking them all together for a period due to their financial limitations, he said.

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“When you have to choose between rent or putting food on the table or heating the home or taking your medications, a lot of people are choosing to forgo the medications."

About 20 per cent of Canadians, or more than 7.5 million people, are estimated to be either uninsured or underinsured for prescription drug costs. A national pharmacare plan would address that, and aim to save billions of dollars. Globe health reporter Kelly Grant explains. The Globe and Mail

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