The health policy puzzle of pharmacare: A Q&A with Professor Steve Morgan

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What is ‘pharmacare’ and why is it important?
‘Pharmacare’ is the idea of a universal public health insurance system for prescription medicines, meaning eligible prescription medicines are paid for, or subsidized, by the government.

Canada has ‘medicare’, for hospital and medical services. Not having an equivalent system for prescription medicines creates problems when it comes to accessibility of medicines, financial costs to the patient, and overall systems costs.

“Literally millions of Canadians report that they are unable to take their medicines as prescribed because of the out-of-pocket costs associated with purchasing them.”
Professor Steve Morgan

Does Canada cover any prescription medicine?
Yes, but not for everyone, and not in a uniform way.

Steve Morgan

Professor Steve Morgan


Canada has a ‘patchwork’ system of private and public coverage plans for prescription medicines. This fragmented system is costing Canadians billions of dollars every year.

Would ‘pharmacare’ not cost the tax payer a lot of money?
Actually, Canada spends more per capita on pharmaceuticals than comparable countries with health care systems that include universal coverage of prescription drugs; about 30% to 50% more on pharmaceuticals than 24 OECD countries.

This is due to things like the cost of managing various public and private drug benefit programs, high drug prices, and inefficiencies in resource allocation across health care.

So why is there no ‘pharmacare’ in Canada? Is this likely to change anytime soon?
We have recently seen a lot of attention paid to pharmacare, including in the federal election, and the factors behind its barriers to implementation have changed.

“Such windows of national policy opportunity are open for only a short time, however – the time to act is now before the window closes or is closed by those with financial interests in the status quo.”
Professor Steve Morgan

To learn more about the barriers to pharmacare, including vested interests, as well as what the future could hold with a new government, new interest, and an empowered public, you can attend Professor Morgan’s Grand Rounds talk, ‘A better prescription: the evidence and politics of pharmaceutical policy in Canada’, on September 23rd at 9am in Michael Smith Laboratories Room 102.
Questions tweeted using the hashtag #SPPHRounds will be selected by the Faculty Coordinator to put to the speaker.

Live streaming is also available from this link.