Mr. Speaker, today I will be splitting my time with my colleague from Chatham-Kent—Leamington.
As deputy health critic for the official opposition, I am happy to speak today to the motion by the member for Vancouver Kingsway. In summary, his motion relies heavily on the results of the recent report prepared by the parliamentary budget officer on the costs of a national pharmacare program in Canada. The motion calls for the government to start negotiations with the provinces next year to implement a universal program.
As we consider this motion, we should be aware that the principal role of the federal government in pharmaceuticals, according to the parliamentary budget officer's report, is to regulate market access, thereby ensuring the efficacy, quality, and safety of drugs; to provide financial support to the provinces through the Canada health transfer, as required by the Canada Health Act; to deliver pharmaceuticals to particular populations; and to regulate the price of new and innovative drugs.
The Standing Committee on Health is currently studying the possibility of a national pharmacare system. In fact, it was that committee that requested a report by the parliamentary budget officer on the potential costs involved. The completed study was provided to the committee just last week. Given this, I would suggest that the opposition day motion is a bit poorly timed. Does it not make sense for the committee to now have time to examine the report, consider its findings, and then report back to the House? I would ask the member for Vancouver Kingsway, the vice-chair of the health committee, to provide his committee colleagues the time they need to do their job.
The Conservative Party of Canada wants to ensure that Canadians are receiving the best health care possible and that even the most vulnerable have access to the latest in pharmaceutical care. As we know, the Canada Health Act provides universal drug coverage for prescription drugs administered in a hospital setting. In addition, the federal, provincial and territorial governments all offer drug insurance plans, providing some coverage to approximately 53% of the Canadian population. If we are to consider an additional level of coverage, we need to bear in mind that private drug insurance programs provide coverage to 24 million Canadians in total.
I think we should focus on the result of a 2002 study by the Fraser Group that estimated that 11% of Canadians faced the risk of high prescription drug costs because they either had no coverage at all, or were significantly under-insured. These are the Canadians who need this type of program. Therefore, I would suggest that a more targeted approach would be to begin with the health committee's study on a national pharmacare program.
Let us look at the costs, the logistics, and the overall effect of a program focused on Canadians currently without any existing coverage at all. This would include seniors, those with low fixed incomes, people with uncertain work or low wage jobs without benefits, the disabled and others in need. Should the committee and the House agree to examine a plan like this, we could receive feedback from the provinces, stakeholders and, indeed, from Canadians themselves on whether it would indeed provide quality health care to those in need of it. Additionally, the information obtained on the actual versus estimated costs would be invaluable for future discussions of a possible and potentially expanded program.
This brings me to the fact that my Conservative colleagues and I are concerned about the lack of data and the high initial cost of implementing a national pharmacare program here in Canada, considering the growing deficits that Canadians are facing as a result of the irresponsible government. This motion unfortunately reflects what I would describe as typical NDP thinking. The members somehow believe that there is an unending supply of tax dollars that can be accessed into infinity.
The PBO has evaluated what it would cost to provide a national pharmacare program to all Canadians, even those with an existing plan, to be approximately $22.6 billion dollars annually. The PBO indicated that its initial study shows that a national program would grow by 11% in just five years, from $19.3 billion to $22.6 billion in 2020. It also clarified that this number could be off quite substantially, as overall consumption of prescription medication could very well increase under a national pharmacare plan. The cost of prescription medications is the largest factor causing patients not to follow their prescribed treatments, and with the sudden implementation of a universal pharmacare program, individuals with newfound access could end up flooding the system. These costs are unpredictable.
Although the parliamentary budget officer provided a budget based on the drugs list in Quebec, the drugs on that list are quite different from other provinces', which is another factor making the true costs unknown. The health needs of each province's population, prescribing habits of physicians, generic drug pricing, and price negotiations vary. This creates differences in the consumption by and even coverage of various drugs for specific populations. To seriously consider pharmacare, we must determine the potential source of the funds, particularly as the current government has well exceeded its proposed deficit targets, leaving us with little room to consider this plan.
The Conservative Party of Canada supports a high-quality, sustainable health care system that would ensure that Canadians get the best possible care. As previously mentioned, approximately 12% of Canadians are under-insured or not covered by a plan already. Due to the fact that the majority of people are already covered, we should be targeting our limited resources at a more efficient way of covering individuals who do not presently have coverage. This would involve focusing on individuals such as seniors, those with low fixed incomes, people with uncertain work or low-wage jobs without benefits, the disabled, and others in need.
The fact is that there are alternatives to reduce the costs for Canadians, especially those without drug coverage, as I discussed recently with regard to Motion No. 132. Costs can be lowered through volume leveraging and generic-versus-brand purchases without the scope of a program, as costed by the parliamentary budget officer. The resulting savings could be upwards of $7 billion.
Again, I would remind the House that the framework of the parliamentary budget officer's report on funding health care is based on Quebec's inclusive list of drugs, eligibility requirements, copayment levels, and eligibility requirements for copayment exemptions. It is important to note, however, that Quebec runs a hybrid system that is close to universal pharmacare by requiring that residents have drug coverage either through a private plan sponsored by their employer, a professional association, or through the government-run public plan. Even in that province, 7.2% still do not adhere to prescribed treatment due to the cost.
I would suggest that the health committee look at how my home province of Alberta is handling this issue. Alberta works hard at providing publicly funded drugs to those who need them the most, such as seniors. It provides public drug coverage plans for individuals who have no other type of coverage and who are not necessarily experiencing high drug costs relative to their income. There, the the number of people who do not adhere to their drug treatment plans due to the cost is only 0.4% higher than in Quebec. However, the key point is that with similar results to Quebec, Alberta is able to do so at $209 billion lower cost.
In summary, while no Canadian should be without necessary pharmaceuticals, we must consider the most efficient and cost-effective way to achieve this. I would ask the member to allow the health committee to finish its work so that we may go forward with complete information as we consider the best way to achieve universal drug coverage for Canadians.