Skip to content

Trudeau refuses to pursue universal pharmacare despite lives lost, billions in savings

Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor refuses to save lives and billions of dollars by implementing – or even being willing to discuss with the provinces – pharmacare.

The Council of Canadians calls on the Trudeau government to implement universal pharmacare and save billions of dollars a year (money that could be invested in public health care, prevention, and wellness programs to save lives).

The PBO says pharmacare would save at least $4 billion a year

On September 27, 2016, the Committee requested that the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) estimate the cost of implementing pharmacare. That report was released on September 28, 2017. The Canadian Press reports, “A national, universal pharmacare program that all but eliminates all out-of-pocket expenses for Canadians who need to fill their prescriptions could slash the overall price tag for drugs in this country by more than $4 billion a year. …The savings would come largely from the impact of bulk purchases of drugs, allowing Health Canada to negotiate better prices for most pharmaceuticals, as well as an increase in the use of generic drugs.”

The article adds, “The government will analyze the report, but the current system needs work as it is before anything can be done about moving to a universal program, Bill Blair, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of health, said [on September 28] in question period. …Provinces, for whom prescriptions have become the second-most costly part of the health budget, have been pushing Ottawa for a national pharmacare program. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has not committed to the idea. He has directed his health minister only to work with the provinces to increase bulk buying of drugs in order to cut costs.”

Pharmacare could save $11 billion a year

The Toronto Star editorial board has written, “Various studies have pegged Canada-wide savings from national pharmacare at between $4 billion and $11 billion per year, depending on how the program is structured. That’s based on savings seen internationally. Canada is, in fact, the only country with a universal health care system that doesn’t also cover the cost of prescription medicine. Administration costs represent another burden. …Every public and private drug plan operating in this country spends money on revenue collection, claims management and other bureaucratic functions. Savings from ending this duplication alone were valued at between $1 billion and $2 billion.”

Why did the PBO study peg savings at $4 billion? The Canadian Health Coalition explains, “The PBO was mandated to use the Quebec drug formulary to price out the cost of offering every resident of Canada access to medicines. …Quebec does not take advantage of the economies of scale by having the government purchase medicine on behalf of its whole population, nor does Quebec receive the low prices on medicine that a national public program could offer because of the difference in provincial and national economies of scale. Any plan costed using the Quebec model would be a worst-case scenario…”

House of Commons committee recommendations coming this year

On March 7, 2016, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health (HESA) agreed to adopt “a study on the development of a national Pharmacare program as an insured service for Canadians”. In April of this year, the CBC reported, “The House of Commons health committee is studying the idea of national pharmacare and is expected to release a report with recommendations this fall.”

With the release of the Parliamentary Budget Officer’s report on September 28, the last meeting this year of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health this coming October 17-19, and given the CBC News report above, we would expect that a report with recommendations will be issued in November-December.

One year deadline – October 1, 2018

On October 5, the NDP put this motion forward in the House of Commons: “That, given that millions of Canadians lack prescription drug coverage, and given that overwhelming evidence, including from the Parliamentary Budget Officer, has concluded that every Canadian could be covered by a universal pharmacare program while saving billions of dollars every year, the House call on the government to commence negotiations with the provinces no later than October 1, 2018, in order to implement a universal pharmacare program.”

Speaking in support of this motion, NDP MP Tracey Ramsey said, “Surely the Liberals can commit to one meeting to talk about where we are going in this country with respect to pharmacare. All we are asking in this motion is that in one year we have that meeting. It is time for action. Canadians have waited long enough.”

In response, federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor rose in the House and (shamefully) stated, “I would argue that the government is making progress on a number of these issues and that members of the House should vote against the opposition motion.”

How can the Minister say that? In June 2015, the National Post reported, “One in 10 Canadians don’t fill prescriptions written by their doctors, a phenomenon that costs the health care system between $7-and $9-billion annually, a new report [by the Toronto-based Mowat Centre public policy think tank] states. Many don’t fill prescriptions because they can’t afford to, a phenomena exacerbated by the patchwork of coverage in different provinces. Those who can’t or won’t fill their prescriptions end up back in hospital and the phenomena leads to ‘higher mortality’…”


While the Liberals rejected the motion to start a conversation on pharmacare, and claim their government is “making progress” on this issue, it is also pursuing so-called ‘free trade’ agreements that only increase the costs of pharmaceutical drugs for people while adding to the profits of transnational pharmaceutical corporations.

A study by Joel Lexchin (York University) and Marc-André Gagnon (Carleton University) found that the extended patent provisions for pharmaceutical drugs under that the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) could cost us between $850 million to $1.65 billion annually.

Bloomberg has reported, “The [Trans-Pacific Partnership] establishes at least a five-year minimum period during which brand-name drug companies have exclusive rights to sell treatments made from living organisms, known as biologics, after they’ve been approved.” While the United States pulled out of the TPP, the Trudeau government is hoping to conclude a TPP 11 deal at the APEC summit this coming November 10-11.

And in late-August, the Canadian Press reported, “On pharmaceuticals, the U.S. has proposed a 12-year patent-style protection for cutting-edge biologics medicines, sources say. This is significantly higher than the protections in Canada and Mexico, would drive up prices.” Professors Steve Morgan (University of British Columbia) and Ruth Lopert (George Washington University) have written that the Trump administration is likely to attempt to coerce Canada to drive up health care costs by way of NAFTA provisions that would prevent implementation of an equitable and sustainable universal pharmacare system.

Take action!

It is unconscionable that with the reality of people dying because they cannot afford their medications and $4 billion to $11 billion in annual savings in the offing that the Trudeau government is not implementing pharmacare. But again and again that appears to be the case. This past May, Toronto Star reporter Susan Delacourt commented, “Pharmacare is not anywhere near the top of the federal government’s to-do list at present. …[The] government has [not] shown much enthusiasm for the committee’s work — at least so far.”

To send a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau and Health Minister Petitpas Taylor to shift that “at least so far” and to tell them that they must take immediate action on pharmacare, please go to our campaign web-page here.