I was surprised when the Ontario New Democratic Party's leader, Andrea Horwath, announced a policy for pharmacare. It's the single boldest policy position the Ontario NDP has taken in decades.
The reasoning is simple: one in four people in Ontario aren't taking the medication they need because they cannot afford it. The province will begin by covering the most commonly prescribed essential medications. The estimated cost of the plan would be $475 million per year. That number sounds onerous, but in a provincial budget of $133 billion it will make a small impact. Horwath, during the announcement, suggested that this could find savings for the overall budget as patients who can better manage their care are less likely to end up in hospital or with worse chronic conditions.
I was at first concerned about this policy. It seemed like a bloated social program that would doom the NDP from winning any support from centrist Ontarians. The initial price tag gave me some comfort, to be sure. I'm sure the price of a universal system would be staggering, but the ONDP isn't talking about that at this stage.
The policy started to make a great deal of sense to me when I framed it within my family. My father retired a few weeks ago and medical expenses are something he's thinking about. My grandmother and uncles are on limited income and have significant health complications. If the burden of some of their life-saving medicines was removed it would surely improve their situation.
As our economy undergoes a transformation to a less stable, less predictable, and less secure I think that the state is going to have to provide the supports to keep our society functioning and skim from the productivity of the low-labour economy. I look forward to seeing what this program's details, but I think it might be the next logical step as we face an aging population and a precarious economy.