Health Minister Mark Holland tabled a long-awaited bill Thursday meant to pave the way for national pharmacare and preserve a deal that secures the New Democratic Party’s support for the government in the House of Commons.

The bill includes a program to cover birth control as well as diabetes drugs and supplies for anyone with a health card, which must now be negotiated with individual provinces and territories. The cost is likely to be in the realm of $1.5 billion, said Holland, noting that estimate is very likely to change over the course of negotiations with provinces.

“This is a proof-of-concept opportunity to try [providing] two drugs on a universal, single-payer model,” he said at a press conference Thursday. “We’re going to have an opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of that model.”

Read: Liberals say pharmacare bill unlikely to pass this year, despite promise to NDP

In a press release, Stephen Frank, president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association said the new bill will put at risk the workplace benefit plans that 27 million Canadians rely on.

“We have told the government that the way to improve drug coverage is to build on the workplace plans that millions of working people and their families value and rely on, by providing targeted benefits to the relatively small number of Canadians who lack public or private drug coverage now,” he said. “But the plan announced today will not do that. Instead, it will spend billions of dollars unnecessarily on drugs for people who already have coverage.”

He added private insurance plans cover “nearly twice as many drugs” as any public plan and that Canadians aren’t interested in “the federal government picking and choosing which drugs get covered and which don’t.”

“We believe the right approach is to support existing benefit plans that are working well and to target federal investment towards those who don’t have coverage today, not those who already do.”

The initial program was a condition of a bargain struck with the New Democrats, who touted the legislation Thursday as the fulfilment of a long-held dream. Pharmacare is a central pillar of the political pact between the two parties, which has the NDP helping the Liberals stave off an election in exchange for progress on a list of shared priorities.

Its future seemed uncertain earlier this month amid a months-long stalemate over the wording of the legislation and the number of drugs they planned to launch first. The NDP announced they clinched the negotiations late last week in the lead-up to a negotiated March 1 deadline to table a bill.

“This is historic. This is the dream of our party since the conception of our party,” NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Thursday morning. “It is happening not by coincidence, it is happening because New Democrats fought and we forced the government to do this.”

Health critic Don Davies, who led the negotiations for the NDP, said the final pieces were put in place over the weekend. “The NDP has been simply unceasing in our insistence that we build a system that constructs a single-payer formulary and a formula for pharmacare, and I can tell you that the legislation does that,” he said Wednesday.

Read: National pharmacare program will cost $40BN annually with shift of $14BN in private insurance

The bill includes universal coverage as a binding principle that must guide the implementation of a future pharmacare program. The bill calls for the minister to put together a committee of experts to make recommendations about how to pay for a national universal, single-payer plan within 30 days of the Act receiving royal assent.

As it stands, Canada is the only country in the world with a universal health-care system that doesn’t also have universal coverage for prescription drugs outside of hospitals. Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre spoke to the media in the foyer of the House of Commons Thursday but walked away when reporters asked him for his position on the government’s pharmacare plans.

In December, parties agreed to push back the original timeline, which would’ve seen legislation fully passed by the end of last year. The reticence on the Liberals’ part largely came down to cost. A full fledged pharmacare program would cost the government nearly $40 billion a year by the time it’s fully up and running, the parliamentary budget officer estimates.

Singh threatened to pull out of the parties’ political deal if the new March 1 deadline wasn’t met with legislation that earned his approval. But he and his party were open about their desire to keep the deal alive and see a pharmacare bill debated in the Commons.

Read: Liberals, NDP to move forward on dental-care program, national pharmacare

Alberta and Quebec have already said they want to opt out of the program and would rather put the money toward their existing drug plans.

“We were not consulted about the federal government’s plan and although information available to us is limited, we have concerns about the proposed limited scope,” Alberta Health Minister Adriana LaGrange said earlier this week.

LaGrange said Alberta intends to opt out of the program, but still wants to receive its per-capita share. On the other hand, British Columbia already covers many contraceptives as part of its provincial pharmacare program and Manitoba’s government has already pledged to do so as well. Ontario also provides many contraceptives for people under the age of 25 who don’t have private insurance.

If provinces were to opt out of the national plan, it could undermine some of the potential savings Canada would expect to see as a result of bulk drug purchasing, said Davies. “New Zealand estimates they save 40 per cent on drug costs by having a single bulk-buying system. So, working toward having a much more effective, robust, national, comprehensive bulk-buying system would save us billions of dollars, it’s been estimated.”

In addition to the initial list of drugs, the bill lays out several next steps and deadlines designed to nudge the government toward a bigger pharmacare plan. Those steps include asking the new Canadian Drug Agency to develop a list of essential medicines within a year of royal assent, which would inform which drugs are covered in the future.

Read: Key stakeholders highlighting value of private payer health care amid plans for dental, pharmacare programs