2018 budget opens door for national pharmacare

Ontario health minister Eric Hoskins will head a new advisory group on pharmacare

2018 budget opens door for national pharmacare

National pharmacare appears to be on the table as the federal government has announced the formation of a new advisory group to assess the feasibility of universal coverage.

Earlier this week, Ontario health minister Eric Hoskins resigned from his position to lead the new council. Addressing his departure from provincial politics, Hoskins said he was leaving “to continue building better health care for all Canadians” and that his “path and journey will become clearer in the days ahead.”

Yesterday’s federal budget duly provided that clarity, with speculation that national pharmacare will headline next year’s budget, ahead of the 2019 federal election.

While Canada’s health care system is well regarded internationally, it is something of an anomaly that universal healthcare isn’t reciprocated with comprehensive public provision of prescription drugs. Recent data from the Canadian Labour Congress shows that 3.5 million Canadians are unable to afford the medication they need.

In appointing Hoskins to lead the new advisory group, the federal government has selected a candidate with considerable experience in this area. In his position as Ontario health minister, he oversaw the introduction of a provincial pharmacare plan which covers medication for people under the age of 25.

Facing an election of her own this summer, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne announced Helena Jaczek as the new health minister, and identified what made Hoskins an ideal candidate to oversee a national pharmacare plan.   

“He has been instrumental in making sure Ontario is leading the effort to expand our system with historic initiatives like OHIP+, which has made prescription drugs free for everyone under the age of 25,” she said.

Last fall, the parliamentary budget watchdog calculated that a national pharmacare program would have an annual cost of approximately $19 billion.

This compares to the $28.5 billion in national pharmaceuticals costs in the fiscal year 2015-16, recorded by the parliamentary budget office.

Of that amount, provinces and the federal government contributed $13.1 billion, private insurance companies covered $10.7 billion, while citizens spent $4.7 billion. Proponents of national pharmacare estimate that bulk purchasing of prescription medication should lead to savings of approximately $4 billion annually.

Reacting to the new advisory group, the life and health insurance industry association welcomed the move, while reiterating the need for continued consultation between the government and providers.

“We support additional efforts by the government to ensure those who currently don’t have supplemental drug coverage benefit from coverage in the future and we look forward to sharing our ideas on how best to do this,” said Stephen Frank, president and CEO of the CLHIA.

“The right solutions will control costs to taxpayers, ensure group health plans are not put at risk, and make sure that patients have the medicines they need, with no affordability barrier,” he added.