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Alberta intends to opt out of national pharmacare program: health minister

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Alberta’s health minister said the province will be opting out of a national pharmacare program.

The federal NDP announced it reached a deal to table pharmacare framework legislation with the Liberals on Friday.

“If the federal government pursues a national pharmacare program, Alberta intends to opt out of the program, and to instead receive our full per capita share of that funding for deployment into our provincial health-care system," Alberta Health Minister Adriana LaGrange said Monday.

Details of the national deal are expected when legislation is introduced this week. The deal would allow every Canadian with a health card to access free diabetes medication and birth control.

Those medications can cost hundreds of dollars monthly, depending on the level of health-care coverage someone has.

“Insulin is expensive,” said Lisa Hart, who has Type 1 diabetes. “Anywhere $30 to $40 a vial, and everyone's needs are different. Personally, I go through about three to four vials a month. Some will use more, some less.”

It’s those who don’t have proper coverage that are the biggest concerns for health-care advocates, who worry opting out of a national plan will leave some people behind.

"So many Albertans you know, are struggling with just basic costs for things like housing and groceries, you know, contraception and diabetes medications should not be luxury items in Alberta,” said Dr. Rupinder Toor, the medical director of the Calgary IUD Women’s Clinic.

Quebec has also said it intends to opt-out of the program, and Nova Scotia and New Brunswick said they’re waiting for details before deciding whether to sign on.

The health minister said it should be up to provincial governments to decide how to run the program.

“We are not going to allow Ottawa to pick and choose what coverage should be available to Albertans based on issues they find politically palatable,” LaGrange said.

“Much like previous national programs the Liberal government has announced, including the dental program, there was no consultation done with provinces or service providers.”

The minister also admitted Alberta doesn’t know how much the province would be eligible for, or whether the federal government will even provide it without signing onto the deal.

"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, play politics than actually help Albertans in their health,” said Chris Gallaway, with Friends of Medicare.

Those who need the medication say not knowing is an added stress.

“Knowing that we have solid health care would be immense in the diabetes community to know that we are cared for and that our health is important and valued,” Hart said.

The newly agreed-upon deal fulfils part of the Liberal and NDP confidence-and-supply agreement.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he understands negotiations with the provinces will be needed, but opting out of the program will be a tough sell to citizens.

“It will be very difficult for the premier in Alberta to explain to people in Alberta who can’t afford their diabetes medication why they’re turning down an investment that would cover everyone in that province, for their insulin and for their medical devices necessary for diabetes,” Singh said.

“I think that’s going to be something that the premier in Alberta will have to explain to their citizens, why they’re refusing to take action that would save lives, save money for those people, and improve our health-care outcomes.”

With files from CTVNews.ca's Spencer Van Dyk and The Canadian Press

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