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Pharmacare: A prescription for addressing racism we can actually fill

HEALTHY DEBATE

By Nav Persaud, Danielle Martin, Steve Morgan, Marc-André Gagnon

COVID-19 is a terrible virus but offers a valuable lesson. Longstanding health disparities based on race have become front page news, driving home the importance of protecting everyone’s health.

Yet, a new Angus Reid Institute poll shows that many Canadians don’t have insurance that covers essential medicines and many commonly skip taking their pills because of the cost. The national survey confirms that in the midst of a global pandemic, one in four Canadian households has inadequate prescription drug coverage. Women and racialized people (“Canadians who identify as a visible minority”) are more likely to report having no insurance or partial coverage. Lower income households are more than twice as likely to be uninsured or under-insured as those with household incomes over $100,000. Women are more likely to report being uninsured or under-insured than men.

COVID-19 has made this situation dire: more than half a million Canadian houses have lost prescription drug coverage during this year of unprecedented public health and economic crises.

The interaction between race, drug coverage and COVID runs deep. For instance, having poorly controlled diabetes increases the risk of dying from the virus. One would think that every Canadian with diabetes should be all set to face down the pandemic: insulin was discovered almost a hundred years ago in Toronto; the rights to it were sold for just $1; and we have a publicly funded healthcare system. Despite that, millions continue to go without the drugs they need, like insulin.  

Accessing medicines can be the difference between life and death. Sadly, the death toll from COVID-19 in Canada has now passed 10,000. Chronic diseases like diabetes will kill more than 20,000 people this year. The number of lives saved through better access to medicine is hard to know exactly but it is likely in the thousands.

So, if we are “all in this together,” why are some riding crowded buses during a pandemic to jobs that don’t provide insurance for insulin and other life-saving medicines?

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