Pharmacare debate ignoring existing provincial drug plans: report

The national pharmacare debate is lacking a clear understanding of the coverage already available to Canadians who may be at risk of letting prescriptions go unfilled because of cost, according to a new report by the Fraser Institute.

Looking at provincial drug programs across Canada, the report noted British Columbia’s pharmacare plan covers 70 per cent of eligible prescription drugs for families with net incomes below $15,000 and covers 100 per cent of subsequent costs once a family has spent about two per cent of its net income on drugs or related costs. Alberta’s provincial plan, according to the report, offers coverage for eligible drugs subject to a 30 per cent co-payment to a maximum of $25 per prescription. A family in Alberta earning less than $39,250 annually can access the plan for $82.60 per month.

Read: National pharmacare program should be voluntary for provinces, territories: premiers

The report also looked at Ontario’s three programs — the Ontario Drug Benefit plan, OHIP+ and the Trillium drug plan — and Quebec’s RAMQ program.

“Much of the discussion about a possible national pharmacare plan seemingly assumes there’s no existing government help for Canadians to pay for medicines they need, but that’s just not true,” said Bacchus Barua, associate director of health policy studies at the Fraser Institute and co-author of the report, in a press release.

Provincial governments provide coverage for groups of people facing hardship due to their medical costs or factors such as disability, noted the report. As well, provinces can set drug plans based on their particular needs, such as priorities, population age and income levels. Since these factors vary across the country, any necessary customization is likely to be lost or diluted under a national plan, stated the report.

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“Provinces can tailor drug plans to suit their individual needs, but a single-payer national pharmacare system would put an end to that,” said Yanick Labrie, a senior fellow with the Fraser Institute, who specializes in health and pharmaceutical economics. “Instead of a drug program modelled on our inflexible health-care system, we should instead seek to understand what gaps exist in our provincial plans and target resources to Canadians who need assistance.”