As Ontarians wait to see what’s in the provincial budget today, the Ontario New Democratic Party is getting ahead of the debate with its promise to implement a universal pharmacare plan should it win next year’s election.

The NDP hopes the plan will “reduce drug costs faced by individuals, businesses, municipalities, and other private payers; and increase Ontario’s competitive advantage by reducing costs for businesses and supporting a healthy and productive workforce,” according to a document explaining the proposal.

The proposal would cost the province $475 million per year, although that number doesn’t take into consideration savings by public sector employee drug plans.

Read: Panel calls on feds to create and ‘equitable’ and ‘cost-effective’ national pharmacare system

The document goes on to estimate that provincial pharmacare will save private payers $80 per employee per year as many commonly prescribed medications will no longer be their responsibility. Across the board, the NDP estimates private sector savings will reach between $835 million and $1.9 billion.

Ontario pharmacare would begin by covering roughly 125 essential medicines, with the list decided by the committee to evaluate drugs, a panel of independent experts that advises the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care on drug-related issues. The document notes the drugs would likely include those for high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and mental health conditions.

In March, a group of Toronto physicians drafted a list of 125 essential drugs in Canada. “While this list is not the list that Ontario will use, it provides important peer-reviewed research on the feasibility and necessity of providing access to essential medications in Ontario,” the document says.

Read: Physicians draft list of 125 essential drugs in Canada

Some industry participants, however, don’t think the plan is feasible.

“That math doesn’t add up to me,” says John-Paul Dowson, managing director of Roubaix Strategies Inc. in Toronto. “On the one hand, they’re looking to cover a whole new [group] of patients and on the other hand, they’re suggesting, in the way that I’ve read their proposal, they will also cover that essential medicines list for currently covered private patients. . . . I would posit it would certainly be a lot more expensive than they’re proposing.”

Dowson goes on to note that because the proposed program would only cover 125 medicines, private plans will likely still spend significant amounts on members’ prescriptions because pharmacare wouldn’t cover all drugs for common conditions.

Read: A primer on some of Canada’s catastrophic drug programs

Copyright © 2020 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on

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