Canada's Original Think Tank

Pharmacare Strategy

Pharmacare Strategy

Pharmacare Strategy

Pharmacare Strategy

Published on 23 November 2016
Hansard and Statements by Senator Art Eggleton

Hon. Art Eggleton:

Thank you for being here, minister. In a study last year on the costs of prescription drugs, the OECD said that Canada ranks fourth when it comes to spending per capita on drugs out of its 29 member countries. And by the same token, it says that Canada has one of the lowest percentages of public coverage of pharmaceuticals.

More alarming than that is that, a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal indicated that a quarter of Canadians have no drug coverage and that 1 in 10 do not take prescriptions because they cannot afford them, leading to a lot of people ending up in hospitals and more expensive care in that system.

Over the years, we’ve had two royal commissions and a health forum recommend that we should have a universal drug coverage plan, and in a couple of other very recent studies as well, there have been suggestions that the government could save a lot of money. The Canadian Medical Association says that it could reduce spending on drugs by $7.3 billion. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives came out with four different scenarios suggesting, again, billions of dollars of possible savings, depending on the scenario.

Minister, isn’t it time for a comprehensive national pharmacare program?

Hon. Jane Philpott, P.C., M.P., Minister of Health: Thank you for your excellent question, and I want to thank you, senator, for your excellent work on a whole range of matters on health. I know you have been part of the committee that addresses many of the health issues in the Senate, and I want to thank you for your very active work on that.

This is a great question. It’s a really important one. You are absolutely right that the cost of pharmaceuticals is one of our most pressing drivers of the costs of health care overall in this country. The data you raised is concerning. The most recent examination I have had is that we are now teetering between second- and third-highest in the world per capita for our drug costs. Number one is the U.S., numbers two and three are between us and Germany, and we’re getting close to second place.

So in fact it’s worse than in those previous studies, which means we have to do something about this. I have a mandate to address the cost of prescription drugs. I know your question was related to pharmacare, and I’m getting to that, but first I want you to know that I’m doing some work with my team that I think is going to be very helpful in working toward what you’re looking for.

One of the first things we’ve done is we joined, as a federal government, the pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance, which is a bulk-purchasing program across the country. That was greeted with great enthusiasm by the provinces and territories, and we are on track to save $1 billion a year by negotiating the price of pharmaceuticals along with the provinces and territories, so that’s fantastic news.

The other really interesting work that we’re doing, which very few people are aware of — and I think it’s fascinating to consider the levers we have that haven’t really been used to date — has to do with an agency called the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board, which I suspect you’re familiar with. It sets the prices of patented medicines. And in fact, there is some very interesting regulatory and guideline work of the PMPRB that could be done that would address those costs. I would be happy to go into details, but I want to spare you. There is some very effective work, and in fact they are out consulting now on possible regulatory changes which I think could be very helpful.

One of the other things I’m hoping to get progress on with the provinces and territories is working towards a national formulary.

All of these are steps that need to be taken if, someday, this country were ever to institute national pharmacare, which I know there’s a real call for. I know the Health Committee in the other place is looking at this issue right now, and about to deliver a report on pharmacare, very soon, I hope. They have heard some of the same statistics that you have in terms of potentially incredible savings that could come from that in this country.

However, there is some work that needs to be done. One of the things is the development of a national formulary: agreeing upon which drugs should be covered across the country, for example, so it’s an area I’m interested in.

I look forward to receiving the report of HESA, which is the Health Committee in the other place, and I think it’s something we need to seriously examine. Thank you for your pressure on that matter.