The 2018 budget has confirmed the federal government is creating an advisory council on the implementation of a national pharmacare program.

Marc-André Gagnon, associate professor at Carleton University’s School of Public Policy and Administration, believes the budget’s wording around implementation, rather than consultation, marks a real commitment to moving forward on this issue. “The advisory council is really about the implementation of a national drug plan. My understanding, in terms of the wording, is [they] want to go forward with that. The question is how do we do that, the nuts and bolts of what type of national drug plan we want to put in place.”

Read: Ontario health minister resigns to lead discussion on national pharmacare plan

Stephen Frank, president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association, says the organization is looking forward to engaging with the government and the new council. “The budget refers to studying the issue and providing options back to government. We believe they’re going into that with an open mind on what the right path forward is, and we certainly want to make sure that, at the end of any reform, everyone is at least as well off as they were going in,”  he says.

“You want to identify where there are gaps and where there are problems, and you want to look for the most effective way to bring those people up to an appropriate level of coverage while ensuring others aren’t negatively impacted by any change,” he adds. “As a group that covers the majority of people in the country, we’ve got ideas on how you can do that quickly and effectively and in a fiscally responsible way. We’ll be talking with them in due course about what some of those ideas are.”

Dr. Eric Hoskins resigned as Ontario’s health minister to become the head of the new council on Monday. Hoskins and board members will begin a national dialogue and will work with experts from all relevant fields, as well as with national, provincial, territorial and Indigenous leaders, according to the budget.

Read: The great pharmacare debate: An ‘overly simplistic’ solution or needed system rationalization?

Of course, a key question for employers is how a national pharmacare program would affect private drug plans. “If we implement a national public drug plan for everyone, that means an important reduction to the cost of drug benefits,” says Gagnon.

“What will be the extent of the coverage, as compared to what private plans are offering right now? Does that mean employers will still want to provide some extended drug benefit compared to what will be offered by the public plan? I don’t know. We will see.”

There are many questions, of course. So while discussions around pharmacare are taking off, will the government actually take action, or is it more likely to end up launching a slimmed-down version of the idea through, for example, a minimum common formulary? Share your opinion in Benefits Canada‘s weekly online poll.

Read: New group formed to oppose guideline on advisor compensation disclosure

Last week’s poll asked whether the upcoming changes around disclosing compensation paid to advisors involved in group benefits and retirement services are a good idea. More than half (55 per cent) of respondents said yes, while 15 per cent said no. Another 30 per cent agreed that disclosure is important, however advisors have real concerns about the speed at which the changes are happening and how they’ll play out in practice.



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