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      Prescription drug coverage in Canada: a review of the economic, policy and political considerations for universal pharmacare


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          Canadians have long been proud of their universal health insurance system, which publicly funds the cost of physician visits and hospitalizations at the point of care. Prescription drugs however, have been subject to a patchwork of public and private coverage which is frequently inefficient and creates access barriers to necessary medicine for many Canadians.


          A narrative review was undertaken to understand the important economic, policy and political considerations regarding implementation of universal prescription drug access in Canada (pan-Canadian pharmacare). PubMed, SCOPUS and google scholar were searched for relevant citations. Citation trails were followed for additional information sources. Published books, public reports, press releases, policy papers, government webpages and other forms of gray literature were collected from iterative internet searches to provide a complete view of the current state on this topic.

          Main findings

          Regarding health economics, all five of the reviewed pharmacare simulation models have shown reductions in annual prescription drug expenditure. However, differing policy and cost assumptions have resulted in a wide range of cost-saving estimates between models. In terms of policy, a single-payer, ‘first-dollar’ coverage model, using a minimum national formulary, is the model most frequently advocated by the academic community, healthcare professions and many public and patient groups. In contrast, a multi-payer, catastrophic ‘last-dollar’ coverage model, more similar to the current “patchwork” state of public and private coverage, is preferred by industry drug manufacturers and private health insurance companies. Primary concerns from the detractors of universal, single-payer, ‘first-dollar’ coverage are the financing required for its implementation and the access barriers that may be created for certain patient populations that are not majorly present in the current public-private payer mix.


          Canada patiently awaits to see how the issue of prescription drug coverage will be resolved through the work of the Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare. The overarching and ongoing discourse on policy and program implementation may be construed as a political debate informed by divergent public and private interests.

          Electronic supplementary material

          The online version of this article (10.1186/s40545-018-0154-x) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

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          Most cited references31

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          Canada's universal health-care system: achieving its potential

          Summary Access to health care based on need rather than ability to pay was the founding principle of the Canadian health-care system. Medicare was born in one province in 1947. It spread across the country through federal cost sharing, and eventually was harmonised through standards in a federal law, the Canada Health Act of 1984. The health-care system is less a true national system than a decentralised collection of provincial and territorial insurance plans covering a narrow basket of services, which are free at the point of care. Administration and service delivery are highly decentralised, although coverage is portable across the country. In the setting of geographical and population diversity, long waits for elective care demand the capacity and commitment to scale up effective and sustainable models of care delivery across the country. Profound health inequities experienced by Indigenous populations and some vulnerable groups also require coordinated action on the social determinants of health if these inequities are to be effectively addressed. Achievement of the high aspirations of Medicare's founders requires a renewal of the tripartite social contract between governments, health-care providers, and the public. Expansion of the publicly funded basket of services and coordinated effort to reduce variation in outcomes will hinge on more engaged roles for the federal government and the physician community than have existed in previous decades. Public engagement in system stewardship will also be crucial to achieve a high-quality system grounded in both evidence and the Canadian values of equity and solidarity.
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            The effect of cost on adherence to prescription medications in Canada.

            Many patients do not adhere to treatment because they cannot afford their prescription medications, putting them at increased risk of adverse health outcomes. We determined the prevalence of cost-related nonadherence and investigated its associated characteristics, including whether a person has drug insurance. Using data from the 2007 Canada Community Health Survey, we analyzed the responses of 5732 people who answered questions about cost-related nonadherence to treatment. We determined the national prevalence of cost-related nonadherence and used logistic regression to evaluate the association between cost-related nonadherence and a series of demographic and socioeconomic variables, including province of residence, age, sex, household income, health status and having drug insurance. Cost-related nonadherence was reported by 9.6% (95% confidence interval [CI] 8.5%-10.6%) of Canadians who had received a prescription in the past year. In our adjusted model, we found that people in poor health (odds ratio [OR] 2.64, 95% CI 1.77-3.94), those with lower income (OR 3.29, 95% CI 2.03-5.33), those without drug insurance (OR 4.52, 95% CI 3.29-6.20) and those who live in British Columbia (OR 2.56, 95% CI 1.49-4.42) were more likely to report cost-related nonadherence. Predicted rates of cost-related nonadherence ranged from 3.6% (95% CI 2.4-4.5) among people with insurance and high household incomes to 35.6% (95% CI 26.1%-44.9%) among people with no insurance and low household incomes. About 1 in 10 Canadians who receive a prescription report cost-related nonadherence. The variability in insurance coverage for prescription medications appears to be a key reason behind this phenomenon.
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              Canada: Health system review.

              Canada is a high-income country with a population of 33 million people. Its economic performance has been solid despite the recession that began in 2008. Life expectancy in Canada continues to rise and is high compared with most OECD countries; however, infant and maternal mortality rates tend to be worse than in countries such as Australia, France and Sweden. About 70% of total health expenditure comes from the general tax revenues of the federal, provincial and territorial governments. Most public revenues for health are used to provide universal medicare (medically necessary hospital and physician services that are free at the point of service for residents) and to subsidise the costs of outpatient prescription drugs and long-term care. Health care costs continue to grow at a faster rate than the economy and government revenue, largely driven by spending on prescription drugs. In the last five years, however, growth rates in pharmaceutical spending have been matched by hospital spending and overtaken by physician spending, mainly due to increased provider remuneration. The governance, organization and delivery of health services is highly decentralized, with the provinces and territories responsible for administering medicare and planning health services. In the last ten years there have been no major pan-Canadian health reform initiatives but individual provinces and territories have focused on reorganizing or fine tuning their regional health systems and improving the quality, timeliness and patient experience of primary, acute and chronic care. The medicare system has been effective in providing Canadians with financial protection against hospital and physician costs. However, the narrow scope of services covered under medicare has produced important gaps in coverage and equitable access may be a challenge in these areas.

                Author and article information

                J Pharm Policy Pract
                J Pharm Policy Pract
                Journal of Pharmaceutical Policy and Practice
                BioMed Central (London )
                7 November 2018
                7 November 2018
                : 11
                [1 ]ISNI 0000 0004 1936 9609, GRID grid.21613.37, College of Pharmacy, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences, , University of Manitoba, ; Winnipeg, MB Canada
                [2 ]Pharmacists Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB Canada
                [3 ]ISNI 0000 0001 2288 9830, GRID grid.17091.3e, School of Population and Public Health, Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia, ; Vancouver, BC Canada
                © The Author(s). 2018

                Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

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                © The Author(s) 2018

                pharmacare,canada,prescription drugs,health insurance, health policy,healthcare economics,politics


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