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Will Pharmacare Finally Be a Reality in Canada?

While Canada has a universal healthcare system, this system does not universally cover prescription drugs, nor does it address out-pocket-costs that many, including breast cancer patients, face when they navigate our healthcare system. Every country that has a universal healthcare system also has universal prescription drug coverage – every country but Canada1. This results in unequal access to treatment based on a variety of factors, such as where a person lives, the type of insurance they have, their age, their income, and more. To address this, many have suggested implementing national pharmacare – a universal drug coverage system that is publicly funded. We’ve written on pharmacare in the past, on what it is and why it should matter to breast cancer patients and on where Canada’s federal parties stand on pharmacare.

We are revisiting this topic once again, both because of its importance to individuals diagnosed with breast cancer and their families, and also because it has once again entered the public conversation with the New Democratic Party introducing Bill C-213, the Canada Pharmacare Act. This means that there is a possibility that we are getting closer to having this be a reality.

A Snapshot of Current Prescription Drug Coverage in Canada

Pharmacare 2020, an initiative put together to provide an evidence-based approach to the conversation on prescription drug coverage in Canada, published a report on their findings in 2015. According to the Pharmacare 2020 report, The Future of Drug Coverage in Canada, public drug plans cover $12 billion in prescription drugs (42% of prescription drug costs in Canada) while private drug plans cover 36% of prescription drug costs in Canada. This means that combined, public and private drug plans cover 78% of prescription drug costs in Canada. While this appears to be a high number, A Prescription for Canada: Achieving Pharmacare for All, a report by Health Canada, found that about 1 in 5 Canadians have either inadequate prescription drug coverage or don’t have coverage at all. They also reported that in 2018, Canadians spent $34 billion on prescription drugs. In short, these figures show that many Canadians fall through the cracks when trying to access treatment.

In 2018, CBCN conducted a follow-up to our 2010 report on the Economic Impact of Breast Cancer. Our findings showed that the cost of breast cancer treatment can lead to emotional and financial stress. In some cases, cost of treatment determined patients’ treatment of choice; “7% [72% of whom were metastatic]) described completely foregoing a medication due to its price tag”. As with other Canadians, coverage of cancer treatment and drugs differ from place-to-place and also come with out-of-pocket costs – costs associated with treatment outside of prescription drugs. Our report found this to be the case especially for the metastatic patient population.

Bill C-213, the Canada Pharmacare Act

Bill C-213, the Canada Pharmacare Act, was introduced as a new federal legislation in February 2020 by the New Democrat Caucus in the current Parliament. The legislation is based on A Prescription for Canada: Achieving Pharmacare for All and the Canada Health Act. The goal of this legislation is to finally implement a universal public pharmacare system in Canada that will provide prescription drug coverage to all Canadians. Implementing the bill is also expected to “make emergency wait times shorter, free-up more hospital beds for those who need them, and save Canadians more than $4.2 billion. It will also save families more than $500 a year on average, whether they have insurance or not, and save employers $600 a year per insured worker.”2

The Canada Pharmacare Act was first debated on November 18, 2020 and will be debated again and voted on in February 2021 with the possibility of becoming a reality by spring of 2021. To learn more about Bill C-213 and to express your support visit www.pharmacarec213.ca.

Photo by Olga DeLawrence on Unsplash