Ottawa should create a new national drug agency: pharmacare council

Canada should create a new arm’s-length drug agency to oversee national pharmacare and create a list of approved, covered drugs, says a new report from the Liberal government’s advisory council.

The eight-page interim report was formally announced on Wednesday morning in Toronto.

Canadians are currently covered by a patchwork of public and private drug plans, while a minority pay out of pocket for their prescriptions.

The pharmacare council, put together ahead of last year’s budget, recommends the federal government work with the province, territories and Indigenous groups to set up a national drug agency to develop a formulary, conduct negotiations with drug manufacturers on price, and evaluate the value-for-money of certain prescription drugs.

The agency could also provide guidance and advice to governments, notes the report.

The council also recommends the agency develop a “comprehensive, evidence-based” formulary. The report says a national list would help harmonize coverage across Canada.

“Unlike hospital and physician services, prescription drugs are not covered by medicare except when used in hospitals,” it says.

“This has left a crucial part of the effective health care inconsistently funded and unevenly available, leaving too many Canadians at risk of not getting the medication they need.”

However, the report makes no final decision on whether Canada should adopt a universal, single-payer pharmacare plan, and there’s no mention of how much money would be needed to set up the agency.

The seven-member council, chaired by former Ontario health minister Eric Hoskins, has been touring the country and hearing from stakeholders and Canadians. So far, it has received more than 150 written submissions and 15,000 questionnaire responses.

The report said its members have heard from too many Canadians that they can’t afford prescription drugs, that access to prescription drugs is inconsistent across the provinces and territories and that Canada’s spending on prescription drugs is unsustainable.

The council’s final work is due in June.

The interim report comes just weeks before the Liberal government introduces the final budget before the fall election.

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