Ontario will give free prescription drugs to people under 25 — will BC?

At the end of April, the government of Ontario announced that, starting in 2018, people under the age of 25 living in the province will get free prescription drugs. The plan, which was outlined as part of the Ontario Liberal government’s 2017 budget, will cover 4,400 types of drugs, and will have no deductible or co-payment.

Dr. Steve Morgan, a professor at UBC’s school of population and public health, said that the policy was long overdue. He also noted that the fact that the Minister of Health in Ontario is a very vocal advocate of universal pharmaceutical coverage played a role.

“I think that this is a pragmatic start when expanding drug coverage for a government that wants the federal [government] to work with them to create a truly national system,” said Morgan. “People under the age of 25 are relatively healthy on average ... [and therefore] it’s the most affordable segment of the population for the government to expand the drug benefit to.”

Morgan also noted that the choice to provide these benefits for young people is also a smart strategic choice.

“Starting with kids is politically savvy because it’s very difficult to take that benefit away,” explained Morgan. “It does not look good for an opposing politician to say, ‘we don’t think children in this province should be able to access the medicines that they need.’”

Morgan said that the likelihood of a similar program in BC is largely dependent on the results of the provincial election, which, due to a few incredibly close ridings and the fact that absentee ballots have not yet been counted, will not be fully known for another two weeks. 

“The provincial Liberal government here now ... they’re not likely to be a party that would see this as something that they’d like to follow, because it’s kind of opposite to the trend that they’ve pursued in British Columbia, which is to minimize the public expenditure on medicine and essentially maximize the responsibility of households and employers for medicines costs,” said Morgan. 

He cited 2003’s Fair Pharmacare plan, which scaled back the drug benefits of senior citizens, as an example.

Morgan then mentioned that while the BC Liberals are unlikely to support this type of program, both the NDP and the Greens would be more likely to support universal pharmacare.

Morgan also said that whether UBC students who are covered under the Ontario Health Insurance Plan are covered under this drug program is still unclear.

“That is a detail where we’ll have to wait to see how the policy unfolds,” said Morgan. “I would suspect not — and the reason is is that, unless they are filling their prescriptions at pharmacies in Ontario, there would be no reciprocal arrangements for a British Columbia pharmacy to bill the Ontario government.”