Close this search box.
Close this search box.
TheRockies.Life Staff

Pills, Politics, and Pettiness: Is Opting Out of Free Insulin Partisan Politics or Putting Albertans First?

Alberta's swift rejection of the new federal Pharmacare program that would provide essential medications like insulin and birth control at no cost to Albertans has baffled doctors and health professionals

The provincial government is choosing to opt out of a new federal Pharmacare program, prompting much dialogue across Alberta. 

Here’s what you need to know.

The program is a deal between the federal NDP party and the federal government, which will supply medication such as insulin shots for diabetes patients and birth control free of charge across Canada.

The full details have yet to be announced, but Alberta Health Minister Adriana LaGrange already feels it’s a federal overstep. 

 Alberta Health Minister Adriana LaGrange
Alberta Health Minister Adriana LaGrange |

Without knowing the national program’s details, Danielle Smith’s UCP government has announced they’ll choose to decline the coverage for Albertans.

By Minister LaGrange’s account at a recent press conference, Alberta already has many pharmaceutical coverage options – even though most are limited and require people to pay for their coverage.

She explained that her party feels there should have been “more provincial consultation” and would prefer a ground-up approach rather than being offered an already completed deal.

Ironically, the provincial UCP government often demands consultation, and yet lately, it has done little consultation itself. 

For example, it did not consult with the renewable energy industry when initiating a moratorium on new renewables projects and making restrictive rules that negatively affect the growth of renewables in the province. 

Nor did the province consult with the federal government about withdrawing from the Canada Pension Plan, which the feds actually control.

“Give us the dollars,” LaGrange said. “Allow us to enhance the programs we actually have now rather than create more bureaucracy.”

So, the province wants the fed’s dollars but not the fed’s programs.

That makes it seem like Danielle Smith’s government is more concerned with winning another argument with Trudeau than with assisting Albertans who are having a hard time.

Doctors and Social Advocates Confused

A provincial approach could be more tailored to suit Albertans specifically. 

Still, the new federal program couldn’t have come soon enough for those in need.

Many physicians have said that the choice to snub the federal coverage is premature and the Alberta government should wait to see the t details. 

The UCP outright rejection of the program is simply out of touch given the financial realities of most Albertans.

Dr. Shelley Duggan is a nephrologist in Edmonton and president-elect of the Alberta Medical Association

In an interview with CBC News, she highlighted the financial burden on the many Albertans who still lack coverage.

She said many of her patients skip buying medication to afford rent and food. 

“What we do know is that people who don’t have drug coverage are 2½ more times likely to miss medications than those who don’t worry about the cost,” Duggan said. 

“We could potentially improve the health of Canadians by making sure that cost is not the reason that they’re not taking their medications.”

Pay Now, Save Later

It’s far from a select few who don’t have coverage right now. Statistics Canada has found that one in five of us have no kind of drug coverage

Plus, a considerable portion of the people who do have plans still need to pay a deductible.

The recurring personal cost of medications, like insulin or heart medication, often costs patients hundreds a month.

Besides this, there’s also the cost we all incur from people skipping doses.

Duggan spoke about both the personal and provincial costs that add up when people can’t afford medications such as birth control.

Unwanted pregnancies alone create a massive amount of financial stress.

When families can barely afford their kids, they rely on social programs. Most often funded by the province with our tax money.

“I’d be very curious to see what the alternative [to the federal program] is,” said Meaghon Reid, executive director of Vibrant Communities Calgary, an anti-poverty organization.

“If it covers the same things, and actually how it would be implemented because a lot of people can’t afford an upfront investment in order to get medications,” Reid told Global News.

She expressed that while the government may feel confident in their decision, the people she works with are as stressed as ever.

​​”People who don’t have that sense of hope because they don’t know what the alternative [to the program] is.”

Albertans are struggling financially with high costs of living including the rising cost of prescriptons  | Tbel Abuseridze | Unsplash
Albertans are struggling financially with high costs of living including the rising cost of prescriptions | Tbel Abuseridze | Unsplash

Jumping The Gun?

Adding new coverages to Alberta’s existing drug programs could be more beneficial than the proposed program.

But Smith’s government’s immediate refusal of the plan before it’s fully released has social advocates confused.

“That is a good deal for Albertans potentially, and our provincial government won’t even review it before saying no because they would rather pick a fight with Ottawa, and play politics than actually help Albertans in their health,” said Chris Gallaway with Friends of Medicare.

Identity politics are becoming more rampant than ever. 

This program is likely, in part, getting quickly dismissed because of where it’s coming from, more so than its actual impact.

But Minister LeGrange seems more concerned with Alerta’s turf war with Ottawa, “What I find unpalatable is the fact that the federal government continues to try and usurp the authority of provincial governments.”

If the provincial government thinks it can afford to reject the federally offered healthcare option immediately, they better develop an Alberta-first approach quickly and let Albertans know how it works.

People struggling with illness can’t afford to be picky about who’s giving them free or low-cost medication and are looking for practical solutions, not petty partisan fights.

Does it make sense to just say no, without offering a viable alternative?

Share this story

Stories in your Inbox, daily or weekly

Choose the types of stories you receive.

Related Stories