Canada’s unions are proud that we’ve won health insurance coverage for many of our members. But we believe anyone with a health card should have coverage for the medicines they need. That’s why we’re working to win a universal prescription drug plan that covers everyone in Canada, regardless of their income, age or where they work or live.
In the 2018 federal budget, the government announced the creation of an Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare, which will be headed up by former Ontario health minister Dr. Eric Hoskins. The Advisory Council is tasked with developing a plan for the implementation of a national pharmacare system with the provinces, territories and key stakeholders.
The unfinished business of medicare
Today, the only place where all Canadians are covered is in the hospital. The federal government covers the cost of prescription drugs for members of the Armed Forces and the RCMP, veterans and Indigenous people.
The provinces and territories all provide different coverage. Most subsidize the cost of medications for vulnerable Canadians like those over 65 and recipients of social assistance and disability benefits. Many also provide catastrophic coverage for those with astronomical medical costs.
But that still leaves one in five Canadians paying out of pocket for their medication because they either don’t have a prescription drug plan, or have plans that don’t cover the cost.
By the numbers
- About one third of working Canadians don't have employer-funded prescription drug coverage.
- The less you earn at work, the less likely you are to have prescription drug coverage.
- Women and young workers are less likely to have the coverage they need.
- Even those with drug plans are paying ever-increasing co-payments and deductibles.
Pharmacare makes economic sense
Canada is the only developed country in the world with a universal health care program that doesn’t include a universal prescription drug plan. Our patchwork prescription drug system is inefficient and expensive. It has left Canadians with wildly varying prescription drug coverage and access. Many are paying different rates for the same medications.
We aren’t benefitting from the current system, but pharmaceutical and private insurance companies are. Pharmaceutical companies can charge higher prices for drugs because they sell to so many buyers. Private insurance companies benefit by charging employers, unions and employees to administer private drug insurance plans.
It’s time for Canada to catch up to our peers. It’s time to complete the unfinished business of our medicare system with a universal prescription drug plan that will save money through bulk purchasing power.
In New Zealand, where a public authority negotiates on behalf of the entire country, a year’s supply of the cholesterol-busting drug Lipitor costs just $15 a year, compared to $811 in Canada.
That’s why Canada needs to combine the purchasing power of all Canadians under one plan. An annual investment of $1 billion by the federal government will mean Canadians save $7.3 billion a year on the medications they need.
Pharmacare will save Canada billions of dollars
Two reports released in September 2017 demonstrate that a universal pharmacare plan will save Canada billions of dollars. The first, by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and Canadian Doctors for Medicare, estimates pharmacare would mean almost $11 billion a year in savings for federal, provincial and territorial governments, the private sector and individual Canadians.
A second, more conservative report released by the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimates savings of $4.2 billion a year for the federal government alone. It used Quebec’s model – the most expensive in Canada – in its calculations, and did not take into account savings for the provinces and territories.
Canadians say “YES” to pharmacare
An overwhelming majority – 91 percent – of Canadians believe our public health care system should include a universal prescription drug plan.
Several national health care commissions have recommended the same, along with the Canadian Medical Association, Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, Canadian Doctors for Medicare, Federation of Canadian Municipalities, Canadian Health Coalition, Council of Canadians and the Canadian Labour Congress.
Provincial leaders are signaling support too. The Ontario provincial government, for example, has announced a targeted Pharmacare program that will cover full prescription drug costs for anyone under the age of 25.
But patchwork measures aren’t enough. We need this federal government to commit to the implementation of a national, publicly-administered universal prescription drug plan for every Canadian, in every province and territory.