The Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare has delivered an interim report to the federal government. One of the Council’s three initial recommendations is to create a national drug agency to oversee pharmacare.
Chaired by Dr. Eric Hoskins, the Council has also recommended developing a comprehensive, evidence-based list of prescribed drugs – a national formulary – to harmonize coverage across Canada. The Council’s third initial recommendation is to invest in data on prescription drugs and information technology systems.
Since its launch in June 2018, the Council has held wide-ranging consultations with Canadians, through which it has identified three major challenges facing Canada with respect to prescription drug coverage. One challenge is that too many Canadians cannot afford the prescription drugs they need. “Even those with prescription drug coverage can face significant and often prohibitive out-of-pocket expenses, in the form of deductibles, co-payments and annual or lifetime maximums,” says the report, noting that an analysis of the 2016 Canadian Community Health Survey found that approximately 1 million Canadians have to choose between food and heat or a needed prescription.
Coverage inconsistent across jurisdictions
The second major challenge identified by the Council is that access to prescription drug coverage is inconsistent across jurisdictions and populations. “The majority of Canadians have access to some form of prescription drug coverage through Canada’s patchwork of more than 100 public and 100,000 private insurance plans. However, patient eligibility and the depth of coverage varies dramatically, depending on factors such as age, income, employer, place of residence, medical condition and drug prescribed,” says the report.
Drug spending unsustainable
The third challenge is that Canada’s spending on prescription drugs is unsustainable, the report says. “Prescription drug spending in Canada has grown significantly over the past few decades, increasing from $2.6 billion in 1985 to $34 billion in 2018, and anticipated to grow to more than $50 billion by 2028.”
Rising drug prices and greater use of new high-cost drugs is part of this challenge. “The message from virtually every public and private prescription drug plan provider was the same: costs are rising at an unsustainable pace. Without reform the system will soon be at the breaking point,” says the report.
Final report due this spring
In a statement, the federal government said it will consider the Council's three initial recommendations while awaiting the Council’s final report due this spring.
"Canadians should not have to choose between paying for prescription drugs and putting food on the table. Our Government is committed to exploring a national pharmacare plan that leaves no Canadian behind. I would like to thank the Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare for its work to date and I look forward to receiving their final report," stated the Minister of Health, Ginette Petitpas Taylor.
To learn more, consult the report here.