OTTAWA, CANADA – Already the envy of American progressives, Canada’s single-payer healthcare system could soon become even more extensive if Ottawa follows up on recommendations from the Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare.
In its final report, released Wednesday, the advisory council recommended the creation of a universal, single-payer pharmacare system that would cover the cost Canadians’ prescription medications. The Canadian government created the body last year to consider the issue.
The advisory council’s 171-page report recommends the establishment of a national agency that will a list of prescription drugs to be covered by the taxpayer-funded system. Initially, the list would include common and essential drugs, beginning in 2022, and be expanded to a comprehensive plan by 2027. The advisory council estimates that national pharmacare will cost Canadian taxpayers C$15 billion (US$11.25 billion) per year when fully implemented.
Although the specifics remain to be worked out, officials have said that the Liberal government will elaborate on the details in coming months. Pharmacare is expected to be one of the main planks in the Liberal Party platform in the upcoming federal election.
“Our Government remains committed to implementing national pharmacare in a manner that is affordable for Canadians and their families, employers, and governments,” the federal health minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor said in a statement “We know that our existing patchwork of drug coverage is not working well, leading to poorer health for some and higher costs for us all. We have to do better. Canadians should never have to choose between paying for prescription drugs and putting food on the table.”
Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer was predictably skeptical. “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.”
Canadians overwhelmingly disagree with Scheer. Eighty-four percent of respondents to a survey conducted by Environics Research in February said that prescription drugs should be covered as part of our public health care system, and 85 percent agreed that it is worth investing public money to create a universal pharmacare system.
The Canadian Medical Association, representing 85,000 doctors, was quick to throw its weight behind the proposal. “The scalable single payer model proposed by the advisory committee will provide an opportunity to achieve savings, consistency and equitable access for all Canadians,” CMA president Gigi Osler said in a statement. “The CMA is especially pleased with the recommendation for a low co-payment model, which has been successfully implemented in other countries.”