By Andrea Horwath,

When you need a prescription, you should be able to walk out of your doctor’s office and know that you can fill it, no matter how old you are or how much money you make.

Universal access to prescription medications should be part of public health care for every Ontarian. No one should have to empty their wallet or rack up a credit-card bill to get the medicine they need.

But that’s sadly not how it works in Ontario today.

I hear from people who have been driven to the breaking point by costs that keep going up, and have to choose between paying the hydro bill, or buying the medications that they need.

One in four people in Ontario are not taking their medication because of cost. And they often wind up in our overcrowded hospitals with a health crisis that puts their life at risk. As more and more insecure jobs come with low pay and no benefits at all, the problem is only getting worse.

Too many politicians have ignored these problems for far too long. And Ontario has built a patchwork of programs that leave out millions of people.

So let’s stop waiting. Let’s do something about it.

Ontario’s NDP has a bold but affordable plan to create the first universal pharmacare program for all Ontarians.

We will ensure that everyone has the drug coverage they need, starting with access to essential medicines like prescriptions for high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and asthma. Our approach for starting a universal pharmacare program for everyone is the one recommended by the World Health Organization and researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital.

From day one, our pharmacare plan will cover every Ontarian. Millions of working-age people will have drug coverage for the first time, and no one will ever lose it. Our plan also keeps all existing drug plans in place.

No matter how old you are, where you work, or how much you earn, New Democrats will make sure you have universal public drug coverage. That means lower costs, less worry, and better health for people across the province.

Our plan will cost $475 million, based on independent projections validated by leading Canadian researchers. That’s just one-third of one per cent of the provincial government’s total annual budget.

As Dr. Steve Morgan, one of Canada’s leading experts on pharmacare, says, “A program of this kind is a practical way of significantly improving access to medicines while dramatically lowering overall drug costs. Universal public coverage of essential medicines is a significant and feasible step in the right direction.”

In addition to guaranteeing drug coverage for every Ontarian, universal pharmacare is good for local businesses and our economy.

Through our plan, businesses and individuals will realize savings of $835 million to $1.9 billion, which can be reinvested in expanded health benefits for employees. As the government provides universal drug coverage to all Ontarians, we will be able to negotiate lower drug prices with the enhanced bargaining power of nearly 14 million Ontarians.

The evidence is clear.

This is a win-win for working families and Ontario’s economy, and can help relieve some of the pressure on our overcrowded hospitals.

It’s not just affordable. For the sake of millions of people across Ontario who need universal drug coverage, we can’t afford not to do it.