An advisory council formed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government said on Wednesday that Canada should have a national pharmacare program that is public, universal and single-payer — run by an agency that could open up access to essential medicines by 2022.
“This is our generation’s national project: better access to the medicines we need, improved health outcomes and a fairer and more sustainable prescription medicine system,” said the chair of the Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare, Dr. Eric Hoskins, in a press release.
As part of the council’s plan, all Canadians would have access to a list of drugs from a national formulary. Drugs on an “essential medicines list” would carry a co-payment of $2, while other drugs would cost $5, with no person or household paying over $100 per year.
Those that rely on social assistance, the federal Guaranteed Income Supplement or federal disability benefits would be exempted from the co-payment so that the medicine would be fully accessible for those that need it.
The council said in their report that creating this plan would remove the need for a lot of private drug insurance. They write that this would save Canadians and businesses money on top of allowing people to move around to different jobs as there would always be minimum drug coverage.
As for the provinces, each would implement the program according to Ottawa’s standards. The council recommends creating a new federal funding transfer for this purpose, so that the federal government would foot the bill for the additional cost of this program. It would be up to individual provinces to opt-in for pharmacare.
The report does note that some provinces and territories “may take longer than others to join national pharmacare”, but recommend the government starting working now with interested secondary governments to implement the national pharmacare plan.
If the government were to start soon, the council said that the essential medicines could be ready for 2022 and a full drug formulary in place by 2027. There is no time left for new legislation ahead of the fall federal election, but Hoskins said he believes it will be part of the campaign.
The Liberals, however, did not immediately confirm if they would follow through on the report’s recommendations, with Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor instead saying that “we will carefully review the council’s final report and its recommendations.”
The initiative will cost taxpayers $3.5 billion by 2022 with the initial stockpile of medicine and the full program will be priced at 2027 by 2027. However, Hoskins and the council make the argument that escalating drug prices show Canada needs to negotiate as a united, national entity and, in the end, it will save money for families and lower the amount spent overall on prescription drugs.
The report found that Canadian families will save an average of $350 per year on a national pharmacare program, and business owners will save $750 per employee.
Last year, the country spent some $34 billion on prescription medication and by 2027, that could rise to $55 billion under the current model, Hoskins said on Wednesday, adding that the “price is too high not to anything”. Canada is the only country with a national universe healthcare program without a corresponding pharmacare initiative.
The Liberals have been considering pharmacare for over a year at the federal level. Though Trudeau has yet to decide if this format will be part of his party’s re-election campaign for the federal election on Oct. 21, the New Democrats under leader Jagmeet Singh announced a “pharmacare for all” plan earlier this year.
Locally, NDP nominee Aisha Jahangir posted a statement on Twitter saying “the NDP knows that average Canadian families and workers do not have another up to 8 years for action”, adding that “the time is now”.