New PBO Report Finds Lack of National Pharmacare Program Comes at Steep Costs for Taxpayers

Canada is the only country in the world with a universal health care system that does not include access to medicine. This has resulted in 1 in 10 Canadians being unable to afford their prescription medication. In Quebec, the numbers are as high as 12 per cent. Pharmacare is one of the missing pieces in our universal health care system and with it, residents of Canada will have equal and affordable access to the medicine they need.

The Canadian Health Coalition and our pro-public health care allies are pleased the House of Commons’ Health Standing Committee (HESA) has recognized the need to address this situation and last year began studying a national pharmacare program. During their study, HESA directed the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) to report on the costs of creating universal pharmacare. That report was released today and it has shown the substantial savings that could be had if we implement a national public drug plan.

The PBO was mandated to use the Quebec drug formulary to price out the cost of offering every resident of Canada access to medicines. Quebec currently uses a mixed model of public and private insurance to offer coverage of medicine to its residents. This use of a mixed model has kept the price of medicine in Quebec fairly high. Quebec does not take advantage of the economies of scale by having the government purchase medicine on behalf of its whole population, nor does Quebec receive the low prices on medicine that a national public program could offer because of the difference in provincial and national economies of scale. The good news is that any plan costed using the Quebec model will be a worst-case scenario and Canadians can expect much lower prices from a national public drug plan.

Many countries around the world that have universal health care systems, including England and Australia, also have robust national public drug plan that ensure all of their residents can access and afford the medication they need. It is time Canada catch up to other developed countries and offer access to medication like we offer physician and hospital services. That will improve health equity and health outcomes.

If done correctly, a national public drug plan will offer savings not just to people and governments, but to employers as well. Businesses will no longer have to figure out complicated drug insurance programs for their employees.

A single-payer, national public drug plan will realise the greatest cost savings for everyone, create equal access to medicine across the country, and bring Canada closer to building a comprehensive public health care system that covers everyone’s health care needs from cradle to grave.

The Canadian Health Coalition and its allies will look closely at the findings of this report over the coming days.

For more information:
Adrienne Silnicki, National Director, Policy and Advocacy, 613-402-6793,


“Even using the Quebec formulary which is the world’s most expensive public delivery prescription drug plan, the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimates $4.2 billion in savings. It is estimated that a more efficient model would save more than $30 billion a year. That’s on top of increasing access, affordability, safety, transparency and accountability across our health care system. Canada’s unions say we can’t afford to wait any longer for a universal prescription drug plan for all Canadians.” – Hassan Yussuff, President, Canadian Labour Congress

“Nurses have been calling for decades for the establishment of a national, universal pharmacare program. We know more than 90% of Canadians support national pharmacare. And now the PBO confirms that we would achieve significant savings in health care dollars and millions more Canadians would receive access to the medicines they need under a pharmacare program. Nurses say, the time to act is now, Mr. Trudeau.” ⎼ Linda Silas, President, Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions

“All Canadians, including employers, would benefit from a national pharmacare program. Such a program would be the next phase of our health care system as envisioned by Tommy Douglas.” ⎼ Ken Neumann, National Director for Canada, United Steelworkers


Subscribe to our newsletter and help preserve and improve public healthcare for everyone.


Canadian Health Coalition