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OTTAWA — An advisory council appointed by the Liberal government recommended in its final report on Wednesday that Canada should create a universal, single-payer pharmacare plan that would reduce prescription drug costs for patients and their employers, but would cost the government an extra $15 billion annually.
Dr. Eric Hoskins, the former Ontario health minister who chaired the advisory council, told reporters that the high costs of prescription drugs are pushing existing public and private plans to the “breaking point.” The cost of a universal pharmacare plan is “significantly less than if we do nothing,” he said. “This is one of our generation’s national projects.”
In the House of Commons on Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the advisory council’s report is an “important step to lay the foundation of a national pharmacare program,” but did not say whether the government will commit to universal pharmacare, as opposed to a model that would extend public drug coverage only to those not covered by a private plan.
Here are some highlights from the pharmacare report and the reaction in Ottawa, by the numbers.
34 billion — The amount Canadians spent on prescription medication in 2018. The advisory council’s report estimates that number will increase to $51.6 billion in 2027 without a national pharmacare program, and to $46.8 billion with pharmacare.
113 — The number of provincial and territorial drug plans in Canada today, in addition to more than 100,000 private plans.
7.5 million — The number of Canadians who have inadequate or nonexistent drug coverage, representing roughly 20 per cent of Canadians, according to the report.
15.3 billion — The additional cost to government in 2027 under a universal pharmacare plan, relative to the status quo. The report does not provide recommendations for how to foot the bill, aside from saying the program should be funded through “general government revenue.”
5 billion — The amount Canadians will save annually under a universal pharmacare program, according to the advisory council, based in part on the lower drug prices expected from the federal government’s stronger bargaining power.
Eight — The number of years the government would have to phase in a universal pharmacare program under the advisory council’s plan. The report recommends that essential medicines be covered by January 2022, with a full drug formulary in place by 2027.
Two — The number of dollars Canadians would spend on each prescription for essential medicines under the advisory council’s proposed plan. Patients would pay $5 per prescription for all other drugs covered by the public plan, up to a maximum cost of $100 per household per year. The report estimates the average household will save $350 a year, and the average business that provides drug coverage will save $750 annually per employee.
7.7 million — The number of Canadians currently receiving private drug coverage for medications not covered by their provincial drug plans, who might therefore lose access to those medications under a universal pharmacare plan, according to the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association, which represents private insurers. The association says people with depression, cancer, diabetes and pain issues would be the hardest hit.
Sixteen — The number of months since Finance Minister Bill Morneau made clear that he preferred a pharmacare model that would fill existing gaps in coverage, rather than a universal program. “We need a strategy to deal with the fact not everyone has access, and we need to do it in a way that’s responsible, that deals with the gaps, but doesn’t throw out the system that we currently have,” he said while speaking at the Economic Club of Ottawa in February 2018. On Wednesday, Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor was tight-lipped about which pharmacare model the government prefers.
Eleven — The number of times Petitpas Taylor mentioned “moving forward” on national pharmacare while speaking to reporters on Wednesday, without giving any details about what type of plan the government might adopt. “We’re going to be working on a framework for a path forward to making sure that we can ensure that all Canadians have access to a national pharmacare program,” she said.
1 billion — The amount of money earmarked in Budget 2019 to help pay for drugs for rare diseases over two years, beginning in 2022, with up to $500 million per year after that. The federal budget also promised a new national drug agency that would build a national formulary — a list of prescription drugs for which everyone would receive coverage. These commitments were based on recommendations from the advisory council’s interim report, released in March, and Petitpas Taylor pointed to them as proof the government is moving toward some form of national pharmacare.
2020 — The year the NDP has promised to implement universal pharmacare. In the House of Commons on Wednesday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh took aim at Trudeau for not committing to single-payer pharmacare. “While Canadians anxiously wait for help, Liberals and Conservatives put pharmaceuticals and insurance companies ahead of people,” he said. “New Democrats have a plan to save families hundreds of dollars.”
Zero — The amount of confidence Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says he has in the Liberals’ ability to implement national pharmacare. Scheer said the Conservatives would focus on extending drug coverage to the “small percentage of people” who aren’t already covered.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019