OTTAWA – March 5, 2018 – HEAL – Organizations for Health Action – and its members applaud Federal Minister of Finance Bill Morneau for his government’s latest budget, which sets an encouraging course for some areas of vital importance in national health policy. The document’s focus on mental health, combatting the opioids crisis and a new advisory panel on a possible pharmacare program are all encouraging, says the coalition’s members.

“This budget contained significant new funding for targeted mental health initiatives and for combatting the opioid crisis, both of which should continue to be top priorities in the federal health policy agenda,” said Ondina Love, HEAL Co-Chair and CEO of the Canadian Dental Hygienists Association. “HEAL is in the process of formulating its advocacy priorities in these key areas and will be excited at the opportunity to work with Health Canada and the Minister as they implement the ambitious plans as laid out in this year’s budget on health matters.”

Last week’s federal budget contained relatively few “big ticket” items, as the Trudeau government holds some of its fiscal fire for the 2019 pre-election budget, which will presumably contain some higher-profile spending items to help make the case for their re-election in a year and a half. Despite this, one of the biggest winners was research: $1.7 billion over five years for the granting councils and research institutes and $1.3 billion over five years for laboratories, equipment and infrastructure. Also, high on the list of potential pre-election items coming out of this budget is the potential for a national pharmacare program, for which this budget has created a national advisory body.

“HEAL looks forward to engaging with the new advisory panel on pharmacare, and continuing to work with the government as it implements the rest of its ambitious health policy agenda,” said Francois Couillard, HEAL Co-Chair and CEO of the Canadian Association of Medical Radiation Technologists. “On pharmacare, we agree with the Minister that the first focus should be on the many Canadians who currently do not have access to the prescription drugs that they need, and that do not currently enjoy sufficient private coverage for vital drugs.”

Many Canadians currently have access to the drugs that they need and the systems that provide it should be preserved. However lower-income and many older Canadians are in dire need of medications to which they currently do not have access, and too many are forced to make the impossible personal budgetary choice between drugs and other life essentials such as food or shelter. Focusing on those who need it the most would be a wise allocation of scarce federal funds in what could be a multi-billion dollar program.

The budget also contained funding for a federal tobacco control strategy as well as targeted funds for public education initiatives associated with its plan to legalize cannabis. It also contained important new funding for health research in Canada. There was also a boost to funding for dementia-related programming, though more will be needed as the federal government moves forward with the development and implementation of a national dementia strategy for Canada.

“HEAL and its members support the government’s focus on mental health programming and on combatting the opioid crisis, and we look forward to working closely in the year to come on finding innovative solutions to these vitally important issues,” concluded Love.