The Sunday Magazine

Why Canada doesn't have a national pharmacare program, and why we need one

Dr. Eric Hoskins left his post as minister of health for the province of Ontario to become Chair of the Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare. His task: to consult and to recommend a plan that would make prescription medication available free of charge to all Canadians.
Currently, Canada has no national pharmacare program in place. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Dr. Eric Hoskins once observed that Canadians spend too much on prescription drugs. He likened it to "paying $60 dollars for a cup of coffee at Tim Horton's".

Dr. Hoskins was the minister of health in Ontario until February, when he resigned to become Chair of the Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare. 

Canada is the only industrialized country with universal medicare that does not provide universal coverage for prescription medications.

One in ten Canadians are unable to fill a prescription because they can't afford it.

Eric Hoskins speaks during a news conference after the first day of a meeting of provincial and territorial health ministers in Vancouver, B.C., on January 20, 2016. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

This results in complications from untreated conditions, emergency room visits and unnecessarily poor health.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer estimates that a national pharmacare program for all Canadians would save about $4.2 billion dollars a year.

This April, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health recommended that Canada create a universal single-payer national pharmacare program.

As Ontario's Minister of Health, Dr. Hoskins expanded the province's health insurance program to give all young people under 25 free access to prescription medicines. Now, he's consulting Canadians across the country about how to implement a national system.

This Wednesday, the Council members were announced. This summer they will be crossing the country to consult with stakeholders.