A new study, conducted by the Angus Reid Institute, is the first to take a deep look at affordability and accessibility of prescription drugs in Canada. A significant, and apparently increasing number of Canadians are unable to afford the medicines being prescribed to them. The results can come as a surprise, given that many look to Canada’s advanced healthcare system as a model to emulate.

– Nearly a quarter of Canadians report that they, or someone in their household, did not take their prescribed medicines in the last 12 months because of cost.

– A third of Canadians say they have friends or family members who cannot afford to pay for their prescription medications.

– More than one-in-five Canadians say they have compensated by skipping doses, splitting pills, or simply not filling their prescriptions.

National drug coverage as a solution? 

Over the past three weeks, these figures have contributed to the growing debate on whether Canada should implement a national drug coverage program. According to OECD health data, Canada has the second worst drug coverage amongst all OECD countries, followed by the U.S. that has the worst coverage.

OECD Stats

The study by the Angus Reid Institute and public discussions on a Pharmacare program have sparked useful considerations on both sides of the debate. On one hand, there are clear benefits to a national drug plan. National drug coverage could ensure all Canadians have access to the drugs they need, and a report by the Mowat Center notes that a Pharmacare program could save $11.4 billion annually. The Angus Reid Institute study also shows strong public support for such a program: Nine-in-ten Canadians indicated support for this concept. But, they also expressed concerns on specific elements of the program.

Cautionary Notes

There are two important cautionary notes expressed in public discussions:

1. What is the optimal vehicle by which such a program should run? There is skepticism on the program being run entirely at the federal level. Any national Pharmacare program will need to include a purchasing group that is capable of separating itself from inevitable politics of drug coverage, and there are models from the UK, New Zealand, France and Australia that Canada can look to.

2. There will need to be a strong focus on effectiveness of drugs. Decisions on funding should be based on performance of the drugs. In absence of evidence-based decisions, Canada could be left with an even more irrational and expensive drug coverage system.

A key take-home point from the Angus Reid survey is that the vast majority of Canadians believe that “Every Canadian – regardless of income – should have access to necessary prescription medicine” – a statement that goes to the very core philosophy of the Access Our Medicines initiative.

With the concept of national drug coverage now becoming a key election platform in Canada, it will undoubtedly continue to build momentum over the next few months. You can follow the discussions using #pharmacare on social media.