REPORT: Universal Pharmacare Would Save Canadians Billions

"All Canadians, including employers, would benefit from a national pharmacare program. Such a program would be the next phase of our health care system as envisioned by Tommy Douglas." 

These are the words of  Ken Neumann, National Director for Canada, United Steelworkers and they come at a time when all Canadians should be listening. While we pride ourselves on our Health System, the fact is that Canada is the only country in the world with a universal health care system that does not include access to medicine. This has resulted in 1 in 10 Canadians being unable to afford their prescription medication. In Quebec the numbers are as high as 12 per cent.

Neumann isn't the only voice in this cry for change. Hassan Yussuff, President, Canadian Labour Congress, said this week that "even using the Quebec formulary which is the world's most expensive public delivery prescription drug plan, the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimates $4.2 billion in savings. It is estimated that a more efficient model would save more than $30 billion a year. That's on top of increasing access, affordability, safety, transparency and accountability across our health care system. Canada's unions say we can't afford to wait any longer for a universal prescription drug plan for all Canadians."

To groups like The Canadian Health Coalition the answer is obvious: Pharmacare is one of the missing pieces in our universal health care system and with it, residents of Canada will have equal and affordable access to the medicine they need. 

The  Coalition and its pro-public health care allies stated in a press release today that they are pleased the House of Commons' Health Standing Committee (HESA) has recognized the need to address this situation, something that began when they seriously started looking at a national pharmacare program last year. it was during that initial that study where HESA directed the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) to report on the costs of creating such a system. That report was released yesterday and findings show not a loss but substantial savings that could be had if a national public drug plan were implemented.

The PBO was mandated to use the Quebec drug formulary to price out the cost of offering every resident of Canada access to medicines. It should be noted that Quebec currently uses a mixed model of public and private insurance to offer coverage of medicine to its residents. This has kept the price of medicine in the province fairly high. Furthermore, The Coalition adds that "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."

The silver lining here is that any plan priced out using this model wwould be a worst-case scenario. Canadians in actuality can expect much lower prices from a national public drug plan one that, if seen through, would be joyful news to many including those in the Canadian medical field. 

"Nurses have been calling for decades for the establishment of a national, universal pharmacare program. We know more than 90% of Canadians support national pharmacare. And now the PBO confirms that we would achieve significant savings in health care dollars and millions more Canadians would receive access to the medicines they need under a pharmacare program. Nurses say, the time to act is now, Mr. Trudeau," said Linda Silas, President, Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions.

Looking across the globe, many countries around the world that have universal health care systems also have robust national public drug plans that ensure all of their residents can access and afford the medication they need. The Coalition and it's supports say that is time for Canada to catch up to other developed countries and offer access to medication the way we currently offer physician and hospital services. That, they add, will only serve to improve health equity and health outcomes.

The benefits don't stop there, however. If done correctly, a national public drug plan will offer savings not just to people and governments, but to employers as well. The Coalition states that businesses would no longer have to figure out complicated drug insurance programs for their employees as but one example. "A single-payer, national public drug plan will realise the greatest cost savings for everyone, create equal access to medicine across the country, and bring Canada closer to building a comprehensive public health care system that covers everyone's health care needs from cradle to grave."

Concerned Canadians seeking a better way should remember that the Liberal government did previously state a commitment to lowering medication costs. It did not, however, mention universal pharmacare. With glaring statistics showing that nearly 10 per cent of the country doesn't take medicines recommended to them because of such cost, the Trudeau government would be wise to look deeper into these findings. They can be assured that groups like The Canadian Health Coalition and its allies will be.