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Advisory council backs universal, single-payer pharmacare plan

The Liberal government appointed advisory council has recommended the establishment of a universal, single-payer public pharmacare system. This coming so close to the upcoming election guarantees it to be a major issue.

The council’s 171-page report calls for the creation of a new drug agency that would draft a national list of prescription medicines that would be covered by the taxpayer, beginning with an initial list of common and essential drugs, by Jan. 1, 2022.

The council recommends that initial list be expanded to a comprehensive plan by Jan. 2, 2027. When fully implemented, the total cost would be $15 billion a year.

Dr. Eric Hoskins, a former Ontario health minister and chair of the advisory council, acknowledged there are “significant incremental costs” to building pharmacare, but he noted that those costs are already being picked up by Canadians.

The council proposes a $2 co-payment for common drugs and $5 for less common ones. Those on social assistance or with low incomes will not have to pay anything.

The report predicts the amount spent on prescription drugs in Canada would drop by roughly $5 billion a year once the plan in fully implemented.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said the Conservatives would instead take steps to lower drug prices and improve access for those who can’t afford it, addressing “gaps” in the system.

What is clear is that with drug-cost inflation running at around 6.5 per cent a year, this can end up being really expensive.

The council’s financial model suggests that by 2027, prescription drug costs will rise from around $30 billion to more than $50 billion by 2027.

Last February, Finance Minister Bill Morneau said a new national program would be “fiscally responsible” and designed to fill gaps in coverage — not to provide prescription drugs to Canadians already covered by existing plans.

The NDP for its part has said that if it wins the October federal election, it will bring in a universal and comprehensive national pharmacare program in 2020.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said his plan would cover every Canadian and save families an average of $500 a year. It would also save $4.2 billion a year through lower drug costs, he said. -CINEWS

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