John Ivison: National pharmacare report bullish on universal program, but offers few ideas on how to pay for it

On Wednesday the advisory council on the implementation of national pharmacare issued its report, which reads like the secret to the philosopher’s stone — a legendary recipe for turning lead into gold.

The council, chaired by former Ontario Liberal health minister Dr. Eric Hoskins, has recommended the federal government implement a universal, single-payer, public pharmacare system for prescription drugs.

It suggested the federal government work with the provinces and territories to create a formulary of covered drugs, starting in 2022, with the goal of putting a comprehensive system in place by 2027.

Coverage would include not only the estimated one in five Canadians who are either uninsured or under-insured, but also those currently covered by private or public drug plans.

Hoskins said a universal plan would result in cost savings of around $5 billion when fully implemented, as the government negotiates bulk-buying deals with drug companies. Canadian families would save an average of $350 a year on out-of-pocket expenses, while businesses would save an average of $750 per employee on prescription drug insurance. The health care system would benefit to the tune of $1.2 billion in savings from 220,000 fewer emergency room visits and 90,000 few hospital stays every year, the report suggested.

The only losers would be private insurers, drug companies and pharmacists — and who cares about them?

Hoskins said Canada can’t afford not to adopt the council’s plan, given the $34 billion (and rising) the country spends on prescription medicines every year.