The Time is Right for a National Pharmacare Program for Canada

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Christina Leigh Schweitzer

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Abstract

The WHO has declared that all countries should have universal health coverage, ensuring equitable access to treatment and necessary medicines for every patient. Canada is the exception among developed countries with universal health care systems in that it does not also provide universal coverage of prescription drugs. Out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs are a significant barrier to treatment for millions of Canadians. In addition, Canadas fractured system of individual provinces and territories negotiating the purchase of their own medicines has diluted Canadas purchasing power and has led to some of the highest drug costs in world. In December 2016, a Citizens Reference Panel on Pharmacare in Canada recommended the creation of a new national formulary for universal publicly covered medicines. A National Pharmacare Program could provide equal publicly-funded drug coverage to all Canadians, regardless of where they live, and through a single national purchasing body and lower administration costs, reduce the cost of drugs by consolidating Canadas purchasing power. This program could begin with a list of essential medicines, and eventually expand to include a comprehensive list of medications. With strong public support for increasing the affordability and equitable access to medications for all Canadians, clear benefits to health outcomes, and evidence from other countries with single purchaser systems of lower drug costs, the time is right for the provincial, territorial, and federal governments to take action on creating a National Pharmacare Program.