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Community pharmacist pans national Pharmacare deal

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Kristen Watt said she believes all Canadians should have access to the medicine they need, but she is not a fan of the federal government’s plan to make that happen.

“Only 5 per cent of Canadians don’t have coverage of some kind. So, a plan like this that uses taxpayer dollars to cover patients that already have coverage is concerning for us because it doesn’t keep with fiscal responsibility,” said Watt, who has been a community pharmacist in Grey-Bruce for 13 years and currently operates Kristen’s Pharmacy in Saugeen Shores.

Watt not only operates her own pharmacy in Southampton, she is vice-chair on the Board of Directors with the Ontario Pharmacist’s Association.

She finds it frustrating that pharmacists have had little to no say about the newly announced national Pharmacare plan.

“Historically, pharmacy hasn’t been at the table when they’re talking about Pharmacare. It baffles our minds, because we are the ones who will administer this program for the government,” she said.

The federal government is expected to start covering medication and prescriptions for diabetes and contraception for all Canadians as the first step in a national Pharmacare deal recently hammered out with the NDP. A deal several years in the making.

“For the one in four Canadians that cannot afford their medication or skip pills or don’t even fill out a prescription because it’s too costly, we wanted to give them some hope,” said NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.

But Watt said that by covering everyone’s diabetes and contraception meds, tax dollars will be spent covering prescriptions that were already covered by private insurance.

She believes targeted Pharmacare reaching patients that can’t pay would make much more sense.

“Almost every province has gap coverage available. We could use this money to bolster the programs and processes we already have in place without adding more bureaucracy, more paperwork, and without benefiting large employers and large insurance companies, because that’s who really benefits from this,” she said.

Watt also fears for the future of community pharmacies like hers.

She said in Ontario, it costs $13 to dispense a prescription. Current government plans pay pharmacists $8.83-$8.85 per prescription. Watt said she charges private insurers $13.99 per prescription to cover costs, turn a profit herself, and pay her employees a living wage.

“I know profit is a dirty word in healthcare, but the reality is I can’t pay my staff off goodwill. To lose that money from the private insurance sector is very concerning for us because I think it will result in less access to care. You’ll have Canadians that have coverage, but they won’t have a community pharmacy to get their medications at because we can’t sustain the level of service we used to,” she said.

Canada’s first legislation towards a Pharmacare plan is expected to be unveiled in Ottawa later this week.

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