Health Minister Mark Holland says the government is open to adding more medications to the list of drugs covered by its proposed pharmacare program.

Holland made the comments at a parliamentary committee studying the Liberals' pharmacare bill.

Conservative health critic Stephen Ellis asked the minister why semaglutide — a class of antidiabetic medication — was not included on the list of drugs covered by the legislation.

The bill, introduced in February, charts a course toward a universal pharmacare plan that covers birth control and diabetes drugs and supplies.

It does not include Ozempic, a new semaglutide medication for diabetes that has been used off-label as a weight-loss drug.

Holland said the current list represents an "absolute minimum," and the government is open to adding to it based on negotiations with provinces and recommendations from the committee.

"If there's things you think should be on that list, I'm actually quite interested in having that conversation. Hopefully it would mean you support the legislation," Holland said to Ellis.

Ellis responded: "Yeah, I don't think we need to worry about that, because it's bad legislation."

It was one of a few tense exchanges between Holland and Ellis, who grilled the minister on topics including Canadians’ access to primary care and how long it takes to approve medications in Canada.

Ottawa willing to add to list of medications covered by pharmacare bill: @markhollandlib. #CDNPoli #Pharmacare

Holland challenged Ellis to say what his party would do differently. "Could you tell us what your plan is … to make sure that people who don't have medication have medication?" he asked.

Ellis responded: "You’ll have your chance to ask me questions at some point when you're sitting in the Opposition."

The committee also heard from representatives for the insurance industry, who said the bill could disrupt existing private coverage for Canadians.

Stephen Frank, president and CEO of the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association, said Holland has stated Canadians with existing drug plans can continue to use them but the text of the bill is "ambiguous."

"It repeatedly calls for universal single payer pharmacare in Canada, with no mention of workplace benefit plans," he said.

"Read in its entirety, the bill could result in practical and even legal barriers to our ability to provide Canadians with the drug benefits that they currently have."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 23, 2024.

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