Pharmacare plan would improve health and lower costs: report

December 3, 2014

OTTAWA—Implementing the first phases of a national pharmacare program would significantly lower costs to taxpayers, while improving health outcomes and access to care, says a report released today by Canadian Doctors for Medicare (CDM) and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA). 

Canada is the only country in the world that has a universal health care plan that doesn't include pharmacare. Canadians pay more for pharmaceuticals than almost any country in the world, with average drug prices 30% above the OECD average. 

As a result, Canadians paid $33 billion for prescription drugs in 2012.The report reviews research detailing the financial and social impacts of national pharmacare implementation abroad, and shifts in policy in Canada. It finds that implementing pharmacare for at least the 80 most commonly prescribed generic drugs would save governments almost a quarter of a billion dollars annually, while allowing everyone who needs those medicines to access them at little or no cost. 

“A national pharmacare plan would reduce the cost to businesses and families for drug insurance, while improving health outcomes and reducing the costs to the health care system of unnecessary hospitalizations,” says the report’s author and CDM chair, Dr. Monika Dutt. “It’s hard to imagine a more compelling public policy priority.” 

This report builds on a growing body research, including a study released today by the Institute for Research on Public Policy. These studies have solidly established a correlation between medication cost and non-adherence, patients not taking their medications as prescribed. Further, this research has documented the serious consequences of non-adherence, impacting both patient outcomes and health care costs. 

“Each year, one in 10 Canadian patients fails to take prescribed medication due to the associated costs, and almost one in four have failed to take prescribed medicine because of cost in the last five years,” says Dutt. “Non-adherence to medications is the cause of 6.5% of all hospital admissions.”

A national pharmacare system in Canada would improve treatment accessibility and affordability by negotiating drug prices and bulk purchasing drugs to keep costs low, as many jurisdictions now do. By following suit, Canada could provide better care to more people at a lower price than the public now pays.

Among the report’s policy prescriptions:

  • Develop a program of systematic joint purchase of a range of prescription medicines;
  • Shift to a competitive tendering model for bulk purchases to achieve significant savings;
  • Utilize these savings to provide those medications to all patients at little or no out-of-pocket cost in keeping with the rest of our public health care system.


Affordable Access to Medicines: A Prescription for Canada is available on the CCPA website at and the CDM website

For more information contact:

Kerri-Anne Finn, CCPA Senior Communications Officer, at 613-563-1341 x306

Katie Raso, CDM Communication and Outreach Officer, at 416-351-3300 or 647-705-2192