Government Announces National Pharmacare Recommendation

The Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare is recommending that Canada implement universal, single-payer, public pharmacare.

The Council recommends:

  • the federal government work in partnership with provincial and territorial governments to establish a universal, single-payer public system of prescription drug coverage in Canada
  • the establishment of a Canadian drug agency, which would be responsible for developing a national list of prescription drugs (the formulary) beginning with an initial formulary of common or so-called essential medicines by January 1, 2022. The Council recommends that this initial formulary expand to a fully comprehensive formulary, to be in place no later than January 1, 2027 (see Figure 1).

Universal, single-payer public pharmacare will result in better value for money and substantial savings for governments, businesses, and individual Canadians. Once implemented, pharmacare’s stronger negotiating power, lower administrative costs, as well as other improvements will save taxpayers an estimated $5 billion annually. Canadian families will save, on average, $350 per year. 

Pharmacare will also provide businesses with much-needed relief from the high and growing cost of prescription drug insurance. The average business owner who provides drug coverage will save over $750 annually per employee. The Council recommends that Canadians and employers continue to be able to purchase private drug insurance as a form of supplementary insurance to national pharmacare.

The delivery of the report marks the completion of the Council’s mandate. A summary of what the Council heard throughout their national dialogue is available online.

Federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas-Taylor also released a statement regarding the final report here. While the recommendations in the report are yet to be reviewed, there is a strong desire to reduce the costs of pharmaceuticals for Canadians.

Political Notes:

LIBERAL – Finance Minister Bill Morneau said last February a new national program would be “fiscally responsible” and designed to fill in gaps, not provide prescription drugs for Canadians already covered by existing plans. Speaking after the budget was released, Morneau said there’s a bulk of Canadians, including those who are self-employed, who don’t have drug coverage. Some parts of the system are working well, but others are not, he said. “We need a strategy to deal with the fact not everyone has access, and we need to do it in a way that’s responsible, that deals with the gaps, but doesn’t throw out the system that we currently have.”

NDP – The Party has said if it wins the October federal election, it will bring in a universal and comprehensive national pharmacare program in 2020. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says his plan would cover every Canadian and save families an average of $500 a year. It would also save $4.2 billion a year in lower drug costs, he said. The Parliamentary Budget Officer released a report in 2017 forecasting a similar savings estimate.

CONSERVATIVE – No official word from the Party. Sources tell us there will be a comprehensive health strategy that addresses pharmacare in the platform.

Additional background facts to situate Canada in an international context:

  • Canadians spent $34 billion on prescription medicines in 2018. On a per capita basis, only the United States and Switzerland spend more on medicines.
  • Approximately 20 per cent of Canadians, representing 7.5 million people, have inadequate drug coverage or no coverage at all and must pay out of pocket.
  • One in five Canadians struggle to pay for their prescription medicines. Three million don’t fill their prescriptions because they can’t afford to. One million Canadians cut spending on food and heat to be able to afford their medicine.
  • Canada is the only country in the world with universal health care that does not provide universal coverage for prescription drugs.

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