The federal NDP is pointing to a Parliamentary Budget Officer report showing that a single-payer, universal pharmacare plan could cover every Canadian while saving approximately $4 billion.
Don Davies, NDP MP for Vancouver-Kingsway, brought that message to Qualicum Beach for the second stop on his national pharmacare tour in an attempt to make the subject an election issue in the 2019 federal election.
More than 60 people attended the event, hosted by Coutenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns at the legion hall in Qualicum Beach on Saturday, May 12.
Davies said he’s been building the case for pharmacare for the last two years, including successfully lobbying the Standing Committee on Health to study universal, single-payer pharmacare, which resulted in the committee supporting the idea.
“Canadians can save money and have better health outcomes with a national pharmacare program,” said Bill Casey, chair of the committee and Liberal MP for Cumberland-Colchester, in an April 18 news release.
Davies highlighted a study on the potential costs of universal pharmacare undertaken by the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO), which showed that $4.2 billion could be saved.
“He did a very rigorous analysis of the cost and benefits of pharmacare and came back with a not unsurprising result for us, but quite a shocking one for the Liberals and Conservatives,” said Davies. “We can cover every single Canadian in this country and save billions of dollars every year using extremely conservative assumptions.”
The report used 2015-16 numbers, including the cost to governments, the cost for private insurance, and the cost for patients out-of-pocket.
The report showed that approximately $28.5 billion was spent on prescription drugs in that time period, with $13.1 billion from the government (mostly the provinces), $10.7 billion covered by private insurance and $4.7 billion by individuals.
About $24.6 billion of that cost would be eligible for pharmacare funding (based on the study’s use of Quebec’s drug plan formulary, as Quebec’s drug program covers everyone in that province). That breakdown is $11.9 billion by governments, $9 billion from private insurance and $3.6 billion from patients.
The PBO estimated the total $24.6 billion could be brought down to $20.4 billion through savings due to the proposed single-payer, universal pharmacare program.
Davies said savings comes from things such as bulk purchasing of drugs on a national level, efficiencies under a single-payer system, generic substitution, evidenced-based controls of the formulary (list of drugs covered) and exclusive licensing agreements.
The PBO report included a $5-fee for those who want a brand-name drug. Davies suggested that the breakdown of the $20.4 billion would be $12 billion paid for by the government, and $8.4 billion from companies (which he said would mean an overall savings as $9 billion is currently paid for private insurance plans).
“It’s a tax that would save them (businesses) money, but nevertheless, it’s a tax,” said Davies.
Questions from the crowd at the legion ranged beyond universal pharmacare, with people asking what can be done to keep U.S. companies from buying Canadian pharmaceutical companies, the need for more family doctors and drugs being prescribed when they’re not needed.
Others were concerned whether the projected savings would in fact go to the public, or if there would be user fees or a cost download to employees by employers.
Questions were also raised over medical assistive devices and drugs that are not covered by plans now, and how the decisions to cover them or not would be made.