Canada is the only developed country in the world which provides universal healthcare but does not cover the cost of prescribed medications.

Asthma Canada believes that all Canadians living with asthma should have equitable and timely access to prescription medications based on the best possible health outcomes rather than ability to pay.

The economic burden of having to pay for prescriptions out-of-pocket is unsustainable and unfairly targets those who may already be struggling. The asthma community is particularly at risk.

  • Two-thirds of Canadian households have out-of-pocket expenses for prescription drugs.
  • Approximately one half of all Canadians have no coverage for prescription medication. This includes one third of Canadians employed full time, and three quarters of part time workers.
  • One in four Canadians without insurance coverage has difficulty paying for medications.
  • One in ten Canadians with insurance have difficulty paying for medications.

Many Canadians joined Asthma Canada’s efforts to demand universal coverage of prescription medications by sending letters to their government representatives explaining how a lack of access to prescription medication impacts them and their loved ones.

Thanks to you, our voices are being heard.

We applaud the Federal government’s support for the establishment of the Canadian Drug Agency which will oversee the development of a new national formulary of prescribed drugs and provide additional support for Canadians with rare diseases. We look forward to integrating the perspectives of patients and the health charity sector as we work with the Federal Government to implement these investments.

We would like to thank the asthma community for helping put pharmacare on the map as a political priority. Thank you for sharing your stories and experiences; for writing to your elected representatives through our letter-writing campaign; and for joining Asthma Canada as we went to Parliament Hill and met with countless policy makers to reinforce our demand for equitable access to medication.

As we move ahead, it will be essential to ensure that we, the asthma community and the patient community at large, continue this momentum and continue to speak out and make ourselves heard.

We must ensure that pharmacare becomes a commitment across party lines and remains a key political priority regardless of election outcomes. We invite you to join us as we continue our efforts to ensure that all Canadians have equitable access to prescription medication and that patient choice is included in all pharmacare solutions.

Read the Final Report of the Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare.

Read more about the Federal budget proposal.

Read The House of Commons Standing Committee on Health report recommending the establishment of a single payer, publicly funded prescription drug coverage program for all Canadians.

We have to speak up to ensure that all Canadians have access to the drugs they need. Please continue to share your stories with your government representatives.

Read more about the issue

“The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.” – the World Health Organization (WHO) Constitution, 1946

Like many chronic diseases, asthma cannot be cured. However, asthma can be managed by using appropriate medications. The use of prescribed medications reduces exacerbations, prevents hospital admissions and deaths. It allows people to work, attend school and live productive, symptom-free lives. Prescription drugs can manage conditions, cure disease, improve quality of life, shorten or prevent time spent in hospitals, and reduce demand for healthcare services. This can lead to positive health outcomes for individuals and decreased costs for the healthcare system.[i] Yet,

  • Two-thirds of Canadian households have out-of-pocket expenses for prescription drugs[ii]
  • Approximately one half of all Canadians have no coverage for prescription medication. This includes one third of Canadians employed full time, and three quarters of part time workers.[iii]
  • One in four Canadians without insurance coverage has difficulty paying for medications.
  • One in ten Canadians with insurance have difficulty paying for medications.[iv]

All high income countries that provide universal healthcare to their citizens, also provide universal coverage of prescription drugs. Currently, Canada is the only OECD country which has a national healthcare plan that does not include a national drug program for prescription medication[v].  Every year, Canadian prescription drug costs increase faster than that of all other OECD countries[vi][vii]. With the ever escalating cost of prescription medicines, more and more Canadians are faced with having to choose between taking their medications and paying for other essentials. The economic burden of having to pay for prescriptions out-of-pocket is unsustainable and unfairly targets those who may already be struggling.

The asthma community is particularly at risk.

  • Many insurance carriers do not provide complete coverage to asthma patients. In a study conducted by Asthma Canada, most respondents (74.4%) had been denied coverage for recommended treatment options by insurance programs.[viii]
  • In the same study, it was found that many respondents (33.7%) had, at some point, skipped filling a prescribed medication because they could not afford it. [ix]
  • 1% of respondents indicated they missed a dosage because they could not afford it.[x]
  • Due to recent scientific breakthroughs, biologics are now available to treat Canadians affected by Severe Asthma. The annual cost of these new treatments can be in the tens of thousands of dollars. This is a significant barrier to access.[xi]

It is unacceptable that residents of a country with universal healthcare skip filling prescribed medication due to inability to pay. Far too many Canadians fall through the cracks in the current healthcare system. These gaps must be eliminated. The asthma community is not alone in struggling to due to the current inadequacies of the Canadian healthcare system. “A 2012 study estimated that inequities in drug coverage for working-age Ontarians with diabetes were associated with 5,000 deaths between 2002 and 2008. Nationally, this human toll would be far greater.” [xii]  Universal coverage of prescription medication will save lives. It will lead to better health outcomes for all Canadians across the board.

We believe that all Canadians living with asthma should have equitable and timely access to prescription medications based on the best possible health outcomes rather than ability to pay.

Millions of Canadians throughout the country are making the case for universal pharmacare. It is time the asthma community raises its voice to join the national demand for equitable access to prescription drugs. The asthma community is calling on the Government of Canada to eliminate all gaps in drug coverage and ensure a wide range of treatment options are available based on best health outcomes. This will ensure that every Canadian has access to the medicines they need to lead the best quality of life possible.


View References
[i] Stuart B, Doshi JA, and Terza, JV. (2009). “Assessing the Impact of Drug Use on Hospital Costs” Health Services Research, 44(1):128-144.

[ii] Health Council of Canada. (December 2011). “Fact Sheet: How Do Sicker Canadians with Chronic Disease Rate the Health Care System?” http:www.heathcouncilcanada.ca/rpt_det.php?id=312

[iii] Wellesley Institute. (2015). “Access to prescription drugs”. http://www.wellesleyinstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/PrescriptionDrugsHEIA-UPDATE

[iv] Ibid.,

[v] CMA Submission: National Pharmacare in Canada: Getting There from Here, Submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health, Canadian Medical Association (CMA), June 1 2016, pg.3.

[vi] “Pharmacare in Canada.” Pharmacare | Pharmacare | Issues. Canadian Doctors for Medicare, August 8 201, http://www.canadiandoctorsformedicare.ca/Pharmacare/pharmacare.html?Itemid=172

[vii] Morgan, S. G., J. R. Daw, and M. R. Law. 2014. Are Income-Based Public Drug Benefit Programs Fit for an Aging Population? IRPP Study 50. Montreal: Institute for Research on Public Policy

[viii] Severe Asthma – The Canadian Patient Journey: A study of the personal, social, medical and economic burden of Severe Asthma in Canada, Asthma Society of Canada, 2014, pg.9

[x] Executive Summary: Severe Asthma – The Canadian Patient Journey: A study of the personal, social, medical and economic burden of Severe Asthma in Canada, Asthma Society of Canada, 2014, pg.3

[xi] Ibid.,

[xii]  “Why a universal pharmacare plan makes sense — now” | The Toronto Star | https://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2017/05/02/why-a-universal-pharmacare-plan-makes-sense-now.html

Read Letters from Canadians

Below are examples of letters we have received from Canadians across the country who have written to their government representatives telling them how the lack of access to prescription medication has impacted their lives.

“I currently work in both fitness and health care facilities. I see first-hand the challenges that Canadians face with access to life changing medication and how it negatively impacts their daily life. I’ve met individuals who put themselves at risk before undergoing physical activity, the only reason being they cannot afford their asthma medication to complement a healthy lifestyle. No Canadian should have to question whether they can afford or access medication that allows them to live a normal life.” 

– From Calgary, AB

“I have severe eosinophilic asthma, which is a rare form and yet there are multiple medications offered and I can’t access since it’s not funded and my insurance is not high enough to cover it.

My husband works hard to provide for us, and I have three wonderful kids that need their mom to be active and participating in their lives. I get hospitalized a lot and the price of the medication per year is cheaper than my two week hospital admission.

All Canadians should have equitable and timely access to prescription medications based on the best possible health outcomes rather than the ability to pay. Thoughtful consideration and leadership from all levels of government is needed to eliminate all gaps in drug coverage. I trust you will agree with me on that.

Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you regarding this issue.”

– From Langley, BC

“I was diagnosed with asthma during my early childhood years. Since then, I have seen multiple specialists and trialed numerous medications to manage my asthma. As a teen, I dropped out of team sports and band because I could not breathe. I know the importance of taking care of my lung health. I get my flu shot annually, I avoid allergens, and I see my doctor regularly to manage my asthma. I started taking Singulair when I was 17 years old in conjunction with my ventolin and the various controller inhalers I have tried over the years. My asthma has been well controlled since I started taking Singulair. When I began working full time, my insurance changed and my drug plan was limited. I receive coverage for up to $600/year (per household) for my medications through Manitoba Blue Cross. I have two different strengths of my inhaler: the stronger dose I take during allergy season and when I am sick, and the lower dose I take throughout the rest of the year. Because of the cost of my medications, I run out of coverage during the first quarter of every year. This past year, I decided to switch to generic Singulair to decrease the annual expense of my medications. I switched to generic Singulair in October 2017. Since then, I have had two lung infections, two colds and two asthma attacks requiring treatment by prednisone. I missed ten workdays in a three-month period because of my asthma. Prior to this, I had one lung infection in a two-year period. Clearly the generic medication did not work as effectively for me as the brand name product. I decided to join my husband’s plan through to increase my drug plan coverage. However, that plan will only cover generic medications when there is a generic alternative available to the brand name. Thus, even though I am paying for two drug plans, I still have to pay $286 for a three-month supply of Singulair. Further, because I have been so sick, my Manitoba Blue Cross coverage ran out in the third month of the year. If I had continued taking the brand name Singulair, perhaps there would not have been a need for me to take oral steroids, antibiotics or trial new inhalers. My only option is to pay out of pocket for the medication. I choose to continue to take on the financial strain to manage my chronic illness. But being able to breathe clearly should not come at this price for someone who has universal healthcare and two drug plans. It should not come at this price for any Canadian. 

There are many Canadians suffering with asthma who might decide to stop taking their medications as the expense of the medication is too much of a burden for them to take on financially. However, this decision only further harms the Canadian economy and plugs up our health care system. People with uncontrolled asthma show up in our emergency rooms and require costly inpatient treatment, or they die. Manitoba is the only province in Canada that does not have an assistance program in place to cover the difference in cost of Singlair and an available generic product. I am advocating that Manitoba be added to the list of provinces that receive assistance to pay for brand name Singulair and that better coverage options become available to Canadians with asthma. Canadians with asthma should not have to pay such a high price so that they can control their asthma symptoms. Thoughtful consideration and leadership from all levels of government is needed to eliminate all gaps in drug coverage. I trust you will agree with me on that.”

– From Winnipeg, MB

“If it were not for OHIP+ that started in January 2018, there would be many times that I would have not been able to afford my life-saving asthma medications. Every month my asthma medications cost $200. Living in Canada, I and many others should NOT have to decide between putting food on the table and medications that we need. If people with asthma don’t have access to needed medications, there’s a high possibility that they would end up in hospital. If all Canadians have access to free or reduced cost medications, than healthcare spending may be reduced overall.”

– From Stratford, ON

“I have severe Asthma and my medication is quite expensive. I worry about the cost once I retire and lose my health care insurance. Please work towards a universal prescription medication plan.”

– From Regina, SK

“Like all countries with national healthcare systems, Canadians should have access to medicines under their provincial plans or perhaps a future national plan for pharmacare.

I urge you to help support this initiative not just on behalf of the millions of Canadians living with asthma and their caregivers but all Canadians living with chronic and severe illnesses without access to plan-covered drugs.”

– From North York, ON

“I was fortunate enough to use my school insurance, and then work insurance to cover most of the costs of my prescription medication for my asthma and allergies. However, when I was unable to access my work insurance, I was left to ask my physician for samples to get by. They could only help so much, and I couldn’t afford to replace all my puffers and asthma control medications. One puffer, up front, would have cost me $200. Multiply that by 3, add my nasal spray, prescription allergy pills, and my asthma controller pills, I would have been out close to $1000. Because I thought I was healthy enough, I went without replacing all my medications. Over time, my health deteriorated and I would have horrible fits of asthma during seasonal changes. It would affect my ability to go out, exercise, or work. 

My parents have a habit of storing medications from the physicians in our fridge. They think it’ll preserve it for the days when they are unable to access work insurance. But the problem with that is that they skimmed on using their medication on a daily basis, which didn’t help their health. When it came time to use the medications, because it was in storage for so long, the effect of the medication wasn’t as strong either. I want to erase their fear of being unable to afford the medication we need.”

– From Richmond Hill, ON