Pharmacare: Why millennials should pay attention
Traditionally, the advocacy around pharmacare has focused on better protecting the health of Canadians, especially children and seniors. But one prominent group is often overlooked in the debate: a growing number of millennials don’t have access to employer-funded prescription drug plans, nor do they meet the requirements to access publicly funded plans.
Today, young Canadians are searching for jobs in an economy with high levels of precarious employment, unemployment or underemployment. According to a recent Statistics Canada labour force survey, approximately 39% of workers 15 to 29 are precariously employed. That means that almost half of millennials between 15 and 29 are part-time, temporary or self-employed workers, and likely don’t have access to employer-run private health insurance plans. An estimated one out of every four Canadians who are uninsured cannot afford their prescriptions.
Canada’s patchwork pharmacare system compounds these obstacles further. Provinces, territories and the federal government each fund drug therapies for a distinct portion of the population. Your postal code and socioeconomic status continue to dictate your ability to access the medication you need, making drug coverage highly inequitable. Too many are forced to pay out of pocket for prescription drugs they can’t afford to go without.
And yet, millennials are not mobilizing for universal, pan-Canadian prescription drug coverage in mass numbers.
Like many recent graduates, it wasn’t long ago that I was without comprehensive drug coverage. While I was fortunate enough to access the medication I needed, not everyone can. Of course, many millennials are in relatively strong health, but there are many risks to those who fall in between having coverage from a parent, coverage from school, or coverage from their employer. Young people require access to prescription drugs for everything from birth control to allergy medication, and from rare disease drugs to cancer treatment.
Health professionals, patients, governments and other key organizations have participated in debates to increase access to prescription drug coverage since the 1960s. Last month, Canada’s Premiers attended the summer meeting of the Council of the Federation (CoF), discussing a number of topics, including health care, with federal government leaders. Although in a limited capacity, pharmacare is back on the Premiers’ agenda but people from coast-to-coast are not participating in a conversation that could change the course of their lives. This is a problem.
Understandably, prescription drug coverage only becomes a concern for many individuals when high costs limit their access. But if you haven’t personally experienced problems with drug coverage or the consequent poor health outcomes that far too many Canadians have, there is a high probability that your friend or loved one has.
Millennials must begin to understand who is involved in the decision making process and how we can work together to close the gaps in access. Parents and children have a responsibility to voice their concerns and demonstrate the struggles that arise as a result of the patchwork system. A combination of traditional and innovative strategies will be key to effectively and strategically participate in the debate.
How can millennials participate in the pharmacare debate?
- Educate yourself on the debate: Who is saying what and why?
- Talk to your friends and family: Are your friends and family struggling to access the medication they need? How do they deal with it?
- Do the math: Could you afford to spend extra money each month on prescriptions, if the need arises? Are you purposely denying yourself medication because you cannot afford to pay out-of-pocket for it? Have you ever told anyone about your challenges?
- Engage in social media debates: Be a part of the conversation.
- Write a letter to you MP or MPP to educate them about the challenges young people are facing in their communities.
With Premiers once again discussing pharmacare, it’s time young Canadians educate themselves on this issue and it’s even more important that they start engaging. With a variety of solutions on the table, engagement is key to selecting and applying the model that brings the greatest benefit to the most Canadians.
Melisa Foster works with Global Public Affairs in Toronto and also serves as a Communications, Media and Marketing Lead for Toronto’s Emerging Health Leaders (EHL) Executive.