An advisory council appointed by the Liberal government is recommending the establishment of a universal, single-payer public pharmacare system.
The council’s 171-page report, released Wednesday, calls for the creation of a new drug agency that would draft a national list of prescription medicines that would be covered by the taxpayer, beginning with an initial list of common and essential drugs, by Jan. 1, 2022.
The council recommends that initial list be expanded to a comprehensive plan by Jan. 2, 2027. When fully implemented, the total cost would be $15 billion a year.
Dr. Eric Hoskins, a former Ontario health minister and chair of the advisory council, acknowledged there are “significant incremental costs” to building pharmacare, but he noted that those costs are already being picked up by Canadians.
“We are confident that the implementation plan that we have put forward is one that meets the objectives and requirements that were handed to the council, of creating a program and implementation plan that is fair and sustainable and accessible to Canadians,” he said.
Hoskins said the time for universal, single-payer public pharmacare has come.
“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,” he said.
“Let’s complete the unfinished business of universal health care. That can be our promise and our legacy to each other and to all future generations.”
Once fully implemented, the report predicts the amount spent on prescription drugs in Canada would drop by roughly $5 billion a year.
In March, the council’s interim report recommended the creation of a new national arm’s-length agency to manage prescription medications by negotiating prices and creating a formulary of approved, covered drugs.
It’s not clear what shape a proposed national pharmacare program might take under the Liberals.
In a statement, Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor said the government will carefully review the report and recommendations, and looks forward to working with the provinces and territories and other stakeholders as it considers “next steps.”
Committed to ‘affordable’ pharmacare
“Our government remains committed to implementing national pharmacare in a manner that is affordable for Canadians and their families, employers, and governments,” she said.
“We know that our existing patchwork of drug coverage is not working well, leading to poorer health for some and higher costs for us all. We have to do better. Canadians should never have to choose between paying for prescription drugs and putting food on the table.”
Petipas Taylor said the government will move forward on measures announced in the budget to improve access to prescription drugs and to make medications more affordable.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau said last February a new national program would be “fiscally responsible” and designed to fill gaps in coverage — not to provide prescription drugs to Canadians already covered by existing plans.
Speaking at the Economic Club of Canada in Ottawa after the budget was released, Morneau said there’s a large number of Canadians, including those who are self-employed, who don’t have drug coverage. Some parts of the system are working well, but others are not, he said.
“We need a strategy to deal with the fact not everyone has access, and we need to do it in a way that’s responsible, that deals with the gaps, but doesn’t throw out the system that we currently have.”
The NDP has said that if it wins the October federal election, it will bring in a universal and comprehensive national pharmacare program in 2020.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said his plan would cover every Canadian and save families an average of $500 a year. It would also save $4.2 billion a year through lower drug costs, he said.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer released a report in 2017 forecasting a similar savings estimate.