Moving closer to pharmacare, but details on model still unclear

The federal government announced this morning that it will create a new drug agency and master list of prescription medications that would be available to everyone regardless of their ability to pay. But the Liberals fell short of confirming a new pharmacare program would be fully universal, accessible, comprehensive, publicly-administered and portable.

Federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Finance Minister Bill Morneau, and Eric Hoskins, the chair of the Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare, made the announcement in Toronto.

Dr. Hoskins said the panel met with people and concerned groups and stakeholders across the country. “We heard loud and clear that what we have currently is inadequate, unsustainable and leaves too many Canadians behind.” “Simply maintaining status quo is not an option,” he added.

The panel is recommending that the federal government take three actions that would be the building blocks of a national pharmacare program including:

  1. Create a national drug agency. This agency will oversee the implementation of pharmacare and the national formulary.
     
  2. Develop a national comprehensive evidence-based formulary (a list of medications) that would be available to all.
     
  3. Invest in drug data information technology systems. This technology “would work from doctors’ offices to pharmacies."

The panel is expected to recommend a specific model for pharmacare in late June in advance of the federal election in October. The Council of Canadians has joined with public health care advocate groups like the Canadian Health Coalition in expressing concern and opposition to a national pharmacare program following a model similar to Quebec’s, which allows a mix of public and private coverage.

Dr. Hoskins said the panel received more than 15,000 responses to an online questionnaire ­– including almost 5,000 submissions from Council of Canadians supporters across the country –  and more than 150 written submissions. He confirmed that the main message the panel received is that the current patchwork is not adequate for providing people with prescription medications. He also acknowledged that many people have to choose between getting the medications they need and paying for food, rent or heat.

Minister Petitpas Taylor referred to a national pharmacare plan as “the missing piece of medicare” and “a nation-building project.”

Minister Morneau acknowledged that the costs of prescription drugs as “astronomical” and rising rapidly.  He called referred to pharmacare as “unfinished business of the Canadian health care system.”

The Ministers' statements suggest pharmacare will be a key piece of the Liberal’s election platform in the October federal election.

The Liberal Ministers also drew questions and criticism from reporters for holding the press conference to make this announcement mere hours before Gerald Butts, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s former principal secretary, was to testify in Ottawa about his role in the SNC-Lavalin controversy.

The Council of Canadians has been a long-time proponent of a national pharmacare program that will ensure everyone has access to the prescription medications they need without the barrier of cost. 

Read more about the Council’s campaign for public health care and pharmacare.