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Council of Canadians cautious about phasing in pharmacare coverage

The Council of Canadians is campaigning to achieve a comprehensive universal pharmacare program.


CBC now reports, “[In a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal Open], researchers propose that governments buy essential medicines in bulk for all of Canada. Steven Morgan at the University of British Columbia and his team said adding an essential medicine list would ensure all Canadians have access to the most commonly needed medicines. Morgan’s team estimated savings from universal public coverage of essential medicines of $4.27 billion per year for patients and private drug plan sponsors, at an incremental government cost of $1.23 billion per year.”


Morgan says, “Doing so may be a pragmatic step forward while more comprehensive pharmacare reforms are planned.”


That same article notes, “Governments should pay for essential prescribed medicines for all Canadians, thus improving their health care, new research suggests. The World Health Organization introduced the concept, and more than 110 countries have adapted it to their needs. Canada hasn’t, despite a 2012 call from the House of Commons health committee to establish such a list as soon as possible.”


Dr. Nav Persaud and his team from St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto have now developed a preliminary list of 125 drugs for Canada.


While these efforts are undoubtedly well intentioned, The Council of Canadians is concerned by proposals to phase-in coverage of prescription drugs rather than fully implementing a universal pharmacare program from the start.


Council of Canadians health care campaigner Michael Butler says, “Without a doubt there is no reason Canada shouldn’t be covering these essential medicines, and this list is important, but we know the government should go much further. Canada remains the only nation with a universal health care that doesn’t prescription drug coverage. We support universal, comprehensive pharmacare which would save $11.4 billion or more annually while providing all medically necessary drugs Canadians needs, not just a list of some drugs.”


He adds, “This list importantly shows just how far behind we are, but it is important to remember that our government must not just pick these low hanging fruit while ignoring the transformative change needed in our fragmented and inefficient drug coverage system. While covering essential medicines is imperative it would still leave in place many barriers for patients because they would only address a portion of what is needed.”


And Butler concludes, “At a time when 1 in 10 Canadians can’t afford to fill their prescriptions, universal, first dollar coverage founded in an evidence based approach would allow more than 3 million Canadians to fill prescriptions that they would not otherwise be able to afford. This is where the government’s sights need to be set, and we must hold them to account. We know that inadequate half measures or hybrid private-public drug plan like in Quebec do not contain costs or provide the best therapeutic benefits that all Canadians deserve.”


There have been indications that the Trudeau government may be moving in the direction of introducing a limited version of pharmacare just before the October 2019 federal election or as a campaign promise at that time as something they would pledge to achieve in their second term in office.

To send a letter to the Trudeau government calling for a universal pharmacare program now, please go to our online action alert here.