Universal pharmacare would save Canadians $4.2B a year, parliamentary budget officer says – Health

Establishing a universal program for prescription medications would amount to about $4.2 billion in savings annually in Canada, the parliamentary budget officer says in a new report.

The report, requested by the House of Commons standing committee on health, was released Thursday.

It provides estimates of the cost to the federal government for a national pharmacare program based on the list of drugs publicly covered in Quebec.

The office estimates roughly $28.5 billion was spent on prescription drugs in 2015-16, and $24.6 billion of that total would have been eligible under a pharmacare program.

“After accounting for pricing and consumption changes, PBO estimates total drug spending under a national pharmacare program would amount to $20.4 billion, if implemented in 2015-16,” the report’s authors said. “This represents savings of roughly $4.2 billion.”

The report says the reduced totals would break down this way:

  • Government: $11.9 billion.
  • Private insurance plans: $9 billion.
  • Patients: $3.6 billion.

Canada is the only industrialized country with universal medicare that does not provide universal coverage for prescription medications.

Nearly 10 per cent of Canadians say they don’t take recommended medications because of cost, previous research suggests. 

Access to medications

Canadian Doctors for Medicare says the patchwork way medications are covered — government programs, drug coverage for public employees, workplace compensation programs and tax incentives for private insurance plans — fragments purchasing power and the ability to negotiate competitive prices for medications with drug companies.

Currently, only those who are old enough, poor enough or in Ontario young enough, without a workplace drug plan, are publicly covered, said Dr. Danyaal Raza, chair of Canadian Doctors for Medicare. 

“One in five Canadian families cannot afford to fill their prescriptions because of cost, so if you move forward with a national universal single-payer plan it means those families will be able to take their medication without having to worry how much to pay and they will have more money to pay for things like food and rent,” Raza said in an interview. 

Parliamentary Budget Officer Jean-Denis Frechette estimates savings of about $4.2 billion from a national pharmacare program. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

“Not only will a national pharmacare plan cost less than Canadians are currently spending, it will…

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