National pharmacare will reduce drug access for almost 26 million Canadians

Existing public plans cover fewer drugs than private plans do and take twice as long to get them covered after Health Canada approves them.

Brett J Skinner | Financial Post | 02 MAY 2024

The recent federal budget provided $1.5 billion over five years to support the launch of a national pharmacare plan. The money will fund universal prescription drug benefits for contraceptives and diabetes medications and is intended to be the first step toward comprehensive, federally funded, single-payer programs that will eventually replace existing public and private drug plans.

By taking this action, the Liberal-NDP coalition in Ottawa shows an astounding lack of concern for how national pharmacare will disrupt prescription drug benefits for privately insured Canadians.

According to the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association, 25.5 million Canadians — 64 per cent of us — have prescription drug coverage under private plans. In addition, provincial and federal governments provide drug benefits for select target populations defined by age, income, disease or their Indigenous status. People who fall between the cracks of private and public plans are protected by publicly funded safety-net programs for out-of-pocket prescription drug expenses that every jurisdiction in Canada offers.

In sum, Canadians are already universally insured against catastrophic expenses — though only for the drugs approved by these various plans. The list of drugs covered is different in private and public programs. Private plans are generally more comprehensive. Telus Health reports that over 80 per cent of private drug plans have open formulary lists, meaning they generally include all drugs authorized for marketing by Health Canada.

Copyright (C) Canadian Health Policy Institute Inc.

Financial Post