UPDATE: Pharmacare Plan Criticized

The Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association says millions of people could risk losing access to certain drugs under even the most comprehensive government-run pharmacare plan.

The industry association's comments came in response to an expert panel's recommendation that Canada should have a single-payer national pharmacare plan to cover every Canadian.

The advisory council, tasked by the federal government to look into the issue, called on Ottawa Wednesday to work with the provinces and territories to create a national plan to replace the current patchwork of private and public prescription drug plans and save taxpayers an estimated $5-billion annually.

The CLIHIA's CEO Stephen Frank, however, says government plans and insurer-based plans should co-operate to negotiate lower drug prices for all Canadians.

The industry association says private workplace health-benefit plans provide thousands of pharmaceuticals not provided by public plans and an estimated 7.7 million Canadians could risk losing access to drugs for conditions such as cancer, depression and diabetes.

Meanwhile, an analyst with the National Bank of Canada Financial Markets says a government-funded pharmacare program would displace private insurance plans offering prescription drug benefits, and take a bite out of insurers' profits.

Canada has a variety of drug plans administered by provinces, mainly for children, seniors and people on social assistance.

Other plans managed by the federal government cover other groups, such as Indigenous people and members of the military, while private insurance fills the gaps for some.

The expert panel is recommending a new drug agency that would be responsible for developing a national list of prescription drugs, known as a formulary, beginning with common or so-called essential medicines by Jan. 1, 2022.

It also recommends that the initial formulary expand to a "fully comprehensive formulary'' no later than Jan. 1, 2027.