Ottawa willing to join the list of drugs covered by the pharmaceutical bill: Netherlands

Health Minister Mark Holland says the government is open to adding more drugs to the list of medicines covered by its proposed pharmaceutical care programme.

Holland made the comments at a parliamentary committee studying the Liberals’ pharmacy bill.

Conservative health critic Stephen Ellis asked the minister why semaglutide, a class of anti-diabetic drug, was not included in the list of drugs covered by the legislation.

The bill, introduced in February, charts a course toward a universal pharmacy plan that covers contraceptive and diabetes medications and supplies.

It does not include Ozempic, a new semaglutide diabetes medication that has been used off-label as a weight-loss drug.

Holland said the current list represents an “absolute minimum” and the government is open to expanding it based on negotiations with the provinces and the committee’s recommendations.

“If there are things that you think should be on that list, I’m actually very interested in having that conversation. Hopefully, that would mean that you support the legislation,” Holland told Ellis.

Ellis responded: “Yeah, I don’t think we should worry about that, because it’s bad legislation.”

It was one of a few tense exchanges between Holland and Ellis, who grilled the minister on issues including Canadians’ access to primary care and how long it takes to approve drugs in Canada.

Holland challenged Ellis to say what his party would do differently. “Could you tell us what his plan is… to make sure that people who don’t have medications have them?” she asked.

Ellis replied: “You will have the opportunity to ask me questions at some point when you are in opposition.”

The committee also heard from insurance industry representatives, who said the bill could disrupt existing private coverage for Canadians.

Stephen Frank, president and CEO of the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association, said Holland has stated that Canadians with existing drug plans can continue using them, but that the bill’s language is “ambiguous.”

“He repeatedly calls for universal single-payer pharmaceutical care in Canada, not to mention workplace benefit plans,” he said.

“Read in its entirety, the bill could result in practical and even legal barriers to our ability to provide Canadians with the drug benefits they currently have.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 23, 2024.

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