The 2018 decision to establish an Advisory Council on adding pharmaceuticals to universal health coverage in Canada
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Canada is the only Universal Health Insurance country in the OECD without universal insurance for outpatient prescription drugs, a situation generally perceived as unfair and inefficient. In June 2018, the federal government launched an Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare, to report in 2019 on the best strategy to implement a national Pharmacare program that would provide all Canadians access to affordable outpatient prescription drugs. The Council was asked to consider three options: a universal public plan for all Canadians; a public catastrophic insurance plan that would kick off once spending on prescription drugs reaches a given threshold; and a more modest patching of existing gaps, providing coverage to those who are not eligible to any form of insurance. Beyond the relative consensus around the ideas that gaps in coverage should be filled to make drugs affordable to all, and that the costs of drugs are too high in Canada, the Council faces the challenge of addressing three underlying issues: 1) what amount of income redistribution will result from each of the three options; 2) how much savings would the implementation of a single payer generate? 3) what role restricting a national formulary would play in achieving those savings, and what would be the political consequences of narrowing the formulary?
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