Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to participate in this important discussion, and I will take the opportunity presented by this speech to outline the steps that our government is taking to advance this issue.
The government is committed to strengthening health care systems across the country and supporting the health of Canadians. We know Canadians are proud of their publicly funded health care system, which is based on need and not ability to pay. For many people, however, paying for prescription drugs is a heavy burden, and for others, it is completely out of reach.
Today, more than seven million Canadians lack adequate drug coverage and many are unable to take their medications due to cost. Every year, almost one million Canadians also give up food and heat to afford medicines. These often tend to be lower-income, working-age Canadians.
No Canadian should have to choose between paying for prescription drugs and putting food on the table. However, we know many are still forced to make this impossible decision. That is why our government is taking action to address these challenges through targeted measures to lower drug prices and improve the affordability of prescription drugs.
To help us chart our course forward, in 2018, the government created the advisory council on the implementation of national pharmacare. Chaired by Dr. Eric Hoskins, the council’s mandate was to provide independent advice on how best to implement affordable national pharmacare for Canadians and their families, employers and governments.
After leading an extensive national dialogue, in its June 2019 final report the council recommended that the federal government work with provincial and territorial governments to establish a universal, single-payer, public system of prescription drug coverage in Canada. Given the scope of the transformation required to achieve national universal pharmacare, the council suggested that it would be practical to adopt a phased approach to implementation.
Guided by the council’s recommendations, budget 2019 outlined three foundational elements to help Canada move forward on implementing national pharmacare: establishing a Canadian drug agency, developing a national strategy for high-cost drugs for rare diseases, and working toward a national formulary.
A Canadian drug agency would take a coordinated approach to assessing the effectiveness of new prescription drugs and negotiating drug prices on behalf of Canada’s drug plans. The development of a national formulary—a comprehensive, evidence-based list of prescribed drugs—would promote more consistent coverage and patient access across the country. Both of these initiatives must be advanced in close collaboration with provinces and territories.
We recognize that for many Canadians who require prescription drugs to treat rare diseases, the cost of these medications can be astronomically high.
That is why budget 2019 proposed to invest up to $500 million per year, starting in 2022-23, to help Canadians with rare diseases access the drugs they need.
Working with provinces, territories and other partners will be key to developing a national strategy for high-cost drugs for rare diseases that includes gathering and evaluating evidence, improving decision-making consistency and access, negotiating prices and ensuring that effective treatments reach the patients who need them.
In addition, the Government of Canada modernized the way patented drug prices are regulated in Canada by amending the Patented Medicines Regulations. These amendments will better protect Canadians from excessive drug prices and are expected to save Canadians roughly $13 billion in drug spending over the next 10 years.
Our government is also working closely with the provinces and territories through the pan-Canadian pharmaceutical alliance, the pCPA. We are using our collective buying power to make drugs more affordable and lower generic drug prices for all payers. The pCPA has completed 345 negotiations with patented drug makers and has an additional 34 currently under way.
The alliance also concluded negotiation on a five-year agreement with the Canadian Generic Pharmaceutical Association that will provide significant savings for all Canadians who use prescription generic drugs. As of April 2019, the work of the pCPA has resulted in annual savings of more than $2 billion, through negotiated price reductions for both patented and generic drugs.
This work, as with the investments made in budget 2019, will help with the successful implementation of any national pharmacare program.
In conclusion, I appreciate this opportunity to discuss some of the important work we are doing on national pharmacare. I am pleased to say that we are moving forward steadily on this critical issue.
Each of the actions I have described today is helping to pave the way for an effective pharmacare program. We recognize the challenges that many Canadians face in accessing needed medications and are working to lay the groundwork for an effective and efficient pharmacare system. This includes bringing down prescription drug prices and improving the management of drugs in our health care system.
I think we can all agree that it is critical that the government work closely with the provinces and territories to determine how best to move forward. Provinces and territories will play a key role in the development of the drug agency, the strategy for high-cost drugs for rare diseases and pharmacare more generally.
It is necessary that we take the time to get this right. I am looking forward to discussions with my provincial and territorial counterparts this spring. Together, we will continue to make the affordability and accessibility of prescription drugs a shared priority for all Canadians.