Advisory council calls for $15B universal, single-payer pharmacare plan

Kathleen Harris · CBC News

Dr. Eric Hoskins says national program would save $5B annually on drug costs

An advisory council appointed by the Liberal government is recommending the establishment of a universal, single-payer public pharmacare system.

The council’s 171-page report, released Wednesday, calls for the creation of a new drug agency that would draft a national list of prescription medicines that would be covered by the taxpayer, beginning with an initial list of common and essential drugs, by Jan. 1, 2022.

The council recommends that initial list be expanded to a comprehensive plan by Jan. 2, 2027. When fully implemented, the total cost would be $15 billion a year.

Dr. Eric Hoskins, a former Ontario health minister and chair of the advisory council, acknowledged there are “significant incremental costs” to building pharmacare, but he noted that those costs are already being picked up by Canadians.

“We are confident that the implementation plan that we have put forward is one that meets the objectives and requirements that were handed to the council, of creating a program and implementation plan that is fair and sustainable and accessible to Canadians,” he said.

The council proposes a $2 co-payment for common drugs and $5 for less common ones. The fee would be waived for Canadians on social assistance or with low incomes.

The council spent the last year studying various pharmacare models and hearing from more than 32,000 Canadians and organizations sharing their views online and through letters, written submissions and meetings across the country.

Hoskins said it’s time to show “courage and boldness” and to do “some nation building” on a project that would benefit Canadians in “unimaginable ways.”

‘Our generation’s national project’

“This is our generation’s national project: better access to the medicines we need, improved health outcomes and a fairer and more sustainable prescription medicine system,” he said.

“Let’s complete the unfinished business of universal health care. That can be our promise and our legacy to each other and to all future generations.”

Once fully implemented, the report predicts the amount spent on prescription drugs in Canada would drop by roughly $5 billion a year.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said Canadians will be skeptical of any plan designed by a cabinet minister from former Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne’s “disastrous” government.

“I don’t believe anybody thinks that when Liberals announce multi-billion dollar spending programs that they’re going to save money,” he said. “The fact of the matter is, they’ve been making this promise since 1997 and in the dying days of a scandal-plagued government, they’re trying to bring this forward.”

He said a Conservative government would take steps to lower drug prices and improve access for those who can’t afford it, addressing “gaps” in the system.

In March, the council’s interim report recommended the creation of a new national arm’s-length agency to manage prescription medications by negotiating prices and creating a formulary of approved, covered drugs.

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