Federal government finally unveils pharmacare plan

Minister of Health says coverage will start with diabetes medications and contraception, but it may still be a few years before benefit plan sponsors see any savings

Federal government finally unveils pharmacare plan

The federal government has unveiled its pharmacare plan, a universal, single-payer coverage that will start by covering diabetes medications and contraception with a goal to implement more coverage for other medications in the future.

Opinions vary on what this means for Canadians, but for employers, this means they may be able to redirect saved costs to other areas of their business. 

Mark Holland, the minister of health, has tabled the pharmacare framework legislation, which he says is the Government of Canada's next step toward national universal pharmacare that will provide a range of diabetes and contraception medications and devices in collaboration with provinces and territories (PTs).

He says that many vulnerable populations can’t afford the medications and the supplies needed to manage their diabetes. As well, there are nine million women of reproductive age in Canada, nearly a quarter of the population. “That every single woman has access to the contraception she needs to control her future is an absolutely critical part of having a just society.”

Walk in, walk out, no co-pay

Once the pharmacare plan is in place, Canadians will be able to walk into a pharmacy, present their prescription, and walk home with the medicine and devices they need without any co-payment or deductible on a universal basis to the public system.

The pharmacare framework legislation also lays the foundation for a program that will one day cover all medically necessary pharmaceutical products for all Canadians, regardless of where they live, where they work, or how much they earn. Holland says it is not only important to the health of Canadians, it is also a smart economic measure that will ultimately save the health care system billions of dollars once fully implemented.

At this time, Holland says meetings with provincial leaders are still underway so the federal government does not know how much this pharmacare program will cost taxpayers. The final costs will be determined after negotiations with the provinces and territories are complete. He also says the plan would likely not come into effect until 2025 at the earliest.

Opinions vary on what impact a universal pharmacare plan cold have on Canadians. One report says it will create a federal monopoly on insurance coverage, and could lower coverage quality for the millions of Canadians who rely on private insurance plans for their prescription medication. Another report says that a couple of provinces have already signalled their intention to opt out of a federal pharmacare program.

National pharmacare likely won’t affect employee health

It is generally held that a universal pharmacare program would provide the greatest health benefit to low-income Canadians, seniors, and those who are uninsured or underinsured for drugs. Most employers that provide employees with some form of private drug coverage say that a national pharmacare program would have a minimal effect on the health of their employees, says a survey by AON. 

For employers, a drug plan is just one element of an overall focus of employee well-being, the survey says. The majority of employers acknowledge that, in the event national pharmacare leads to a reduction in benefit costs, savings would be channeled back into other health and wellness programs.