Canadians face the highest prescription drug prices in the world

Figure 3. Estimated proportion of Canadians reporting private drug coverage, by age band, 2016

Canadians face the highest prescription drug prices in the world


June 13, 2019

Global Korean Post

Medicines are a critical part of health care. They allow millions of Canadians to prevent and fight disease, manage chronic illness, ease pain and breathe better. Yet the way Canada manages and pays for this vital part of twenty-first century health care is critically flawed.


Canadians face some of the highest prescription drug prices in the world. This influences Canadians’ access to important medications and the sustainability of Canada’s health care system.


Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Minister of Health, will table in Parliament the final report from the Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare.

“Over the coming months, we will carefully review the Council’s final report and its recommendations. We look forward to continuing to work closely and collaboratively with the provinces and territories and with our partners and stakeholders as we consider next steps.” said the Health Minister in her statement.


The Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare released the final report this month, called “A Prescription for Canada: Achieving Pharmacare for All”.



According to the report, Canadians spent $34 billion on prescription medicines in 2018. Drugs are the second biggest expenditure in health care, after hospitals. We spend even more on drugs than on doctors. On a per capita basis, only the United States and Switzerland pay more for prescription drugs. Yet for all that spending, there are huge gaps in coverage. One in five Canadians struggle to pay for their prescription medicines. Three million don’t fill their prescriptions because they can’t afford to. One million Canadians cut spending on food and heat to be able to afford their medicine. Many take out loans, even mortgage their homes. Sadly, far too many Canadians die prematurely or endure terrible suffering, illness or poor quality of life because modern medicines are out of reach for them.




We rely on a confusing patchwork of more than 100 government-run drug insurance programs and more than 100,000 private drug insurance plans. Despite everyone’s best efforts, the system is fragmented, uneven, unequal and unfair. The result is a non-system where too many people fall through the cracks. Not only does this lead to ill health, it also costs the health system billions of dollars in extra visits to physicians and hospitals when people’s health fails as a result of lack of access to medicines.


The report found:


  • One in five households reported a family member who, in the past year, had not taken a prescribed medicine due to its cost;
  • Nearly 3 million Canadians said they were not able to afford one or more of their prescription drugs in the past year;
  • People with insurance also struggle to afford their prescriptions because of copayments, coinsurance and deductibles. Of the 3 million people who could not afford their medications, 38 per cent had private insurance coverage and 21 per cent had public coverage but it did not cover enough of their costs;
  • Almost 1 million Canadians cut back on food or home heating in order to pay for their medication; and
  • Almost 1 million Canadians borrowed money to pay for prescription drugs.



While about 60 per cent of Canadians are enrolled in private drug plans (primarily employer-sponsored benefit plans), these plans cover only 36 per cent of total system-wide spending on prescription drugs.


The nature of work is also changing: more people are working part‑time, and only 27 per cent of part‑time employees have health benefits. Others are self‑employed or contract workers, often in precarious employment, usually with no benefits at all. This situation disproportionately affects women, people with low incomes and young people—all of whom are all more likely to work in part‑time or contract positions—leaving them without drug coverage, simply because of the type of work they do.


The report concluded that the best plan for Canada is to organize prescription drug coverage the way universal health care is set up.



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