Federal Budget 2019 – A deeper analysis on proposed health and pharmacare measures

April 29, 2019
Budget 2019 puzzle piece.


On budget day, we highlighted the main promises that could impact our members. We have provided a more in-depth analysis of proposed retirement security initiatives, and in the coming weeks, we will share a closer look at what the budget proposes for veterans’ well-being and other issues.

This week we are digging into the proposed pharmacare and health-care measures that were presented.



A highlight of this budget was the government’s proposed action on national pharmacare. Coming off the heels of the interim report from the Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare, the budget introduces a new Canadian Drug Agency and the development of a national formulary. The first step however is the creation of the Canadian Drug Agency Transition Office with a cost of $35-million over four years, starting in 2019-20 to realize these goals. 

While light on details, the budget proposes that the government work with the provinces and territories to establish the Canadian Drug Agency.   The Canadian Drug Agency will be part of Health Canada and will be responsible for assessing the effectiveness of new drugs as well as negotiating drug prices on behalf of “Canada’s drug plans”.

It has been long argued that bulk purchasing and negotiations through a single body will lower the cost of drugs– the government estimates it will save up to $3-billion per year.

This agency, once established, will also be tasked with developing a “comprehensive and evidence-based” list of medications in partnership with the provinces and territories. We have heard from members who are concerned that certain medications are covered under one provincial program, but not another. A national formulary would serve as the basis for consistent access to medications for patients across the country.

The budget also proposes $1-billion over two years, starting in 2022-23, with up to $500-million per year ongoing, to develop a national strategy for high-cost drugs for rare diseases. This strategy is intended to improve access to necessary medications of people living with rare diseases as these drugs can often cost $100,000 per calendar year and more.

The final report and recommendations from the Advisory Council is expected later in the spring.


Health and Seniors

The budget injects funding into a scattering of health initiatives.



Starting in 2019-20, $50-million over five years will be allocated to the Public Health Agency of Canada to support the implementation of the National Dementia Strategy. This strategy is expected to be introduced this spring.

The funding will be put to work to increase awareness about dementia, with attention to prevention, risk and stigma; to develop treatment guidelines for early diagnosis; as well as create a better understanding of the impacts of dementia in communities.


Social Isolation

Over the next five years, the New Horizons for Seniors Program will see an additional $100-million. The focus of this program is to address isolation, and create opportunities for seniors to participate in their communities.


Canada’s Opioid Crisis

The opioid crisis continues to be Canada’s most urgent public health emergency. Between January 2016 and September 2018, over 10,300 Canadians have died from an apparent opioid-related death.  This budget builds on previous funding, allocating $30.5-million over 5 years, starting in 2019-20, with $1- million in ongoing funding to address gaps in harm reduction and treatment. Specifically, the funding is allocated to expand access to safe prescription opioids, as well as support better access to opioid response training and Naloxone in underserved communities.


Pan-Canadian Suicide Prevention Service

The budget includes $25-million over five years, starting in 2019-20 to support a national suicide prevention service. This service will offer bilingual, 24/7, trained crisis support, through the technology of one’s choice (voice, text or chat).

Death by suicide is the ninth leading cause of death in Canada and is the second leading cause of death among youth and young adults. However, this is also an issue that impacts seniors. The Canadian Coalition for Seniors’ Mental Health notes that 1,000 older adults are admitted to Canadian hospitals each year as a result of intentional self-harm. Men aged 80 years and older have over 6 times the risk of dying by suicide than women of the same age group. You can visit the Crisis Services Canada website for more information http://www.crisisservicescanada.ca/


Expanding Health-Related Tax Relief

The list of GST/HST exempt health care services will be expanded to include multidisciplinary health care services and specific foot care devices. These changes came into effect March 20, 2019.


A Pan-Canadian Database for Organ Donation and Transplants

The budget proposes $36.5-million over five years, starting in 2019-20 to develop a national database and performance system for organ donation and transplant.  The database will facilitate more timely and effective matches between organ donors and recipients in order to improve consistency and quality of data of organ donation in Canada.


A National Seniors Strategy still missing

Disappointingly however, is that this is another budget that fails to provide funding for the implementation of a National Seniors Strategy. 

While worthwhile initiatives are included in this year’s federal budget, tackling healthy aging and issues that impact seniors in a piecemeal and fragmented way will not create the urgent changes needed to ensure this country is prepared to meet the needs of Canada’s aging population.