The Canadian universal healthcare system is a fundamental part of Canada’s identity. However, the healthcare system has been questioned numerous times for its failure to incorporate one of Canada’s largest healthcare industries, the pharmaceutical industry, into the Canada Health Act of 1989. The pharmaceutical industry is one of Canada’s most innovative industries, with the province of Ontario home to more pharmaceutical companies than any other Canadian province. Thus, it comes as no surprise that Ontario is now the first province to implement a province-wide drug plan in the form of the Ontario Public Drug Programs.
Currently, prescription drugs are Canada’s second largest expenditure, as drug costs have exponentially increased in the past 30 years. In 2012, the per-capita spending rose to $795 per year, which was almost eight times the spending value of that in 1985. Aware of this expensive trend, Canada purposed a 10-year Plan To Strengthen Health Care in 2004. This plan included national pharmaceutical strategies, however, no significant nation-wide plans have been initiated. Though not nation-wide, the Ontario Public Drug Program is a significant stride in the healthcare sector, even if it has only come fourteen years after the plan was first proposed.
As of January 1, 2018, the Ontario Public Drug Programs provide 6 programs to assist Ontarians with the cost of prescription drugs. Under OHIP+, anyone 24 years or younger is now able to receive over 4400 drug products free of cost. This new addition to Ontario’s healthcare has been implemented to remove the financial barriers uninsured or insured citizens face when it comes to attaining essential medication. Thus anyone in the aforementioned age bracket who has a health card number and eligible prescription will automatically be a part of this program. While OHIP+ is the coverage for younger children, the Ontario Drug Benefit program will provide pharmaceutical coverage for those 65 years or older. Although there are restrictions and eligibility requirements for these programs, according to the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-term Care, there were about 3.9 million eligible recipients of these programs in 2014. As well, the government has anticipated their greatest spending to be on those between the ages of 55-74 years old.
While Canadians have access to physicians and hospital services, Canada was the only country with a universal healthcare system and no universal coverage of prescription drugs. This combination of private and public drug insurance plans leaves millions of Canadians without the financial coverage they need. Studies show that about one in 10 Canadians say they can’t afford to take their medication as prescribed, and about three to five Canadians are more likely to skip prescriptions because of their cost. As Canadians pay higher prices for prescription drugs than any other Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OCED) country, plans such as the Ontario Public Drug Programs are crucial to the health of citizens and the system itself. Failing to cover the cost of prescribed medication has its consequences, as these drugs are prescribed for the improvement of an individual’s health.
In the long run, by providing citizens with the ability to receive the medication prescribed, there is a decreased demand on the health-care system, with fewer emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and specialist consultations. As well, by 2035, it is projected that there will be almost double the number of older adults, aged 65 and above, in Canada, compared to children 14 years and under. This is why it is crucial for Canada, and the remaining provinces and territories to act now. If this trend continues, citizens in Ontario will have the ability to receive the treatment and medication they need for health and longevity through the Ontario Drug Benefit program .
Alongside saving lives, the Ontario Public Drug Programs play a part in lowering the cost of healthcare in Canada. With the increase in pharmaceutical users and more costly drugs, it is estimated that a universal pharmacare plan could save up to $7.3 billion dollars a year for the government, as well as the additional $8.2 billion that is spent on prescription drugs primarily through employee health insurance plans. Although private health insurance providers are not the direct targets of a universal pharmacare plan, the rising cost of pharmaceuticals is a growing concern for Canadian businesses. Employers waste $3-5 billion dollars a year on employment-related private insurance plans because they are ill-equipped to deal with changing pharmaceutical costs, especially costly drugs that make work health insurance plans unsustainable. There are many notable countries that have successfully implemented a universal healthcare and pharmacare plan. Canada could save billions of dollars if it took on drug plans similar to those within the United Kingdom, Australia, and Sweden. Drug costs could be 15 to 60 percent lower than those that already exist in Canada due to the purchasing power a nation would hold, in comparison to a staggered private system.
The Ontario Public Drug Program is a promising healthcare initiative that will not only better the health of more Ontarians, but also pave the way for Canada-wide pharmacare coverage. If adopted nation-wide, billions of dollars-worth of tax-payer’s money could potentially be saved, enabling the federal government to reallocate money and resources towards bettering the healthcare system further, which would truly elevate Canada as a leader in universal healthcare coverage.