The World Health Organization has recognized that access to medication is a human right. Canada is the only country in the world with a universal public health care system that doesn’t include access to prescription medication. Currently, 1 in 4 households in Canada can’t afford their medications.

Canada needs a national pharmacare program to ensure that everyone can access the medications they need. Our pharmacare program must be public, universal, comprehensive, accessible and portable. Research has shown this could save the government as much as $11 billion.

The issue

Canada’s current patchwork of drug coverage leaves millions of Canadians falling through the cracks. There are over 100 000 public and private drug plans across the country. Millions of Canadians have no drug coverage at all. Even those who have drug plans often end up having to pay costly deductibles and copayments.

As a result, many Canadians are having to choose between putting food on the table and buying the medication they need. People who can’t afford their medication often end up getting sicker. They visit the doctor and the hospital more often, taking up limited resources in our health care system.

Canada pays some of the highest prices in the world for prescription medication. Spending on medication is continuing to rise. We currently spend more on medications than we do on doctors.

To ensure that everyone in Canada can access the medications they need, we need a public, universal pharmacare program.

The CHC is calling for:

  • A public, universal pharmacare program that covers medication in the same way as doctors and hospitals.

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The issue in detail

About 70% of the population relies on private work-based drug insurance plans. There are over 100 000 private drug plans across the country. They all provide different levels of coverage. Since benefits are negotiated in the work place, workers often pay for their drug coverage in the form of lower wages. If people lose their jobs, change jobs or retire, they often lose their drug coverage.

Over 20% of the population relies on public drug plans. There are over 100 provincial, territorial and federal drug plans across the country, and they all provide different levels of coverage. Most public drug plans cover certain populations such as seniors or people on social assistance. The provinces and territories all cover different medications, which leaves access to some medications dependent on where you live. For example, the same cancer medication costs $0 in Nunavut, $3000 in BC and $20 000 in PEI.

Having a drug plan doesn’t mean that you are adequately covered. Both private and public drug plans often have high deductibles and co-payments. Drug plans also often limit the amount that people can claim per month or per year. These out-of-pocket expenses can make medications unaffordable.

Among OECD countries, Canada pays some of the very highest prices for prescription medications. We could significantly lower these prices through bulk buying. By negotiating drug prices for the country as a whole, we’d have much better bargaining power.

Public, universal pharmacare could save over $11 billion. Employers would benefit by not having to cover employees’ drug plans. Households would benefit by not having to pay out-of-pocket for medications. Pharmacare would be good for people’s health and good for business. It would save money and save lives.

Like other health care services, access to medication should be based on need, not on people’s ability to pay. Canada needs universal, public pharmacare now.

Further reading

Campaign Material

Pharmacare Consensus Principles (Consensus Document, 2018)
Why Canada needs universal public pharmacare (Canadian Health Coalition, 2019)
The economic benefits of universal public pharmacare (Canadian Health Coalition, 2019)
Canadians Need a National Public Drug Plan for All (Canadian Health Coalition, 2017)
Mythbuster: A National Public Drug Plan (Canadian Health Coalition, 2017)

Policy and Research Documents

Submission to the Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare (Canadian Health Coalition, 2018)

Pharmacare now: Prescription medicine coverage for all Canadians. Report of the Standing Committee on Health (House of Commons, 2018)

Body Count. The human cost of financial barriers to prescription medications (CFNU, 2018)

Videos from the policy conference A Prescription for Equity (Canadian Health Coalition, 2017)

A National Drug Plan For All (Policy Paper) (Canadian Health Coalition, 2016)

Down the Drain: How Canada Has Wasted $62 Billion Health Care Dollars without Pharmacare (Hugh MacKenzie for CFNU, 2016)

A Roadmap to a Rational Pharmacare Policy (Dr. Marc-André Gagnon for CFNU, 2014)

The Economic Case for Universal Pharmacare (Dr. Marc-André Gagnon and Guillaume Hébert for CCPA and INRS, 2010)

Life before Pharmacare (CHC and CCPA, 2008)


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