Rowan Burdge says she’s spent more than $70,000 over the last 10 years just to keep herself alive with the insulin she needs to treat her Type 1 diabetes.
She has extended health benefits through her job, but that plan excludes insulin and her additional insurance is capped at $7,000 annually for her treatment needs.
So Burdge is forced to pay out of pocket for something that provides “just the baseline of not dying.”
“It’s terrifying. It’s overwhelming. I know if I make a mistake with my insulin shots, I could die quite quickly, which is horrifying,” she said.
Burdge made the comments at a media event in Burnaby South Wednesday evening, as reporters and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh listened. She was one of three local residents who told stories of struggling to afford the medication they need to survive before Singh touted his party’s plan to implement a national universal pharmacare plan.
Singh, who is running in a Feb. 25 byelection in Burnaby South, said Burdge’s story is common across Canada and only the New Democratic plan will properly address the issue.
According to Reuters, the Liberals will soon announce a limited plan to cover some drug costs and plan to campaign on the policy during the October general election.
“What the Liberals are proposing and Mr. Trudeau is proposing is a patchwork system which will not help out all Canadians,” Singh said. “It might help out the Bay Street insurance companies that profit to the tune of billions of dollars.”
But Singh had few details to offer on his own plan. He dodged questions from reports about the cost of a universal pharmacare plan and how such a system would come into place nationally.
“We should make the choice to cover all Canadians and we'll roll out our plan that will talk about the details of that,” he said.
Singh’s Liberal opponent, Richard Lee, said he has also heard from people who struggle to pay for medication. He said he’s spoken to people who have been forced to cut back on food and heating just to afford their prescriptions.
Lee promised the Liberals would help Canadians pay for their prescriptions but had little details of his own, despite calling Singh’s proposal a “pie in the sky” promise.
Conservative Jay Shin also criticized Singh’s lack of detail. He suggested Singh was ignorant of existing provincial programs to help with medication in B.C.
But a UBC professor who has spent the last 20 years studying pharmacare said Singh’s proposal is desperately needed in Canada. A national program could replace more than 100 limited provincial programs across the country and save Canadians money in the process, according to Steve Morgan.
Morgan recently published a study that estimated a national pharmacare would require $8 billion in new taxes every year but would result in $14 billion in private sector savings.
His research has also shown one in 10 Canadians have skipped taking the medications they need for financial reasons. A recent report published by Morgan and his colleagues estimates 700,000 Canadians forego food, heat and other necessities to afford their prescriptions.
“Canadians are making very significant sacrifices because we have this incomplete patchwork of private and public plans,” he said. “It’s actually quite terrible.”
The health economist was among more than 300 signatories to an academic report calling for the kind of comprehensive national plan Singh is proposing. A limited plan expected from the Liberals simply won’t cut it, he said.
Quoting fellow researcher Marc-André Gagnon, Morgan said “When a system's problem is that it's a patchwork, the thing that you don't need is more patches, you need an entirely new system.”