Inequities in pharmaceutical access and use is a new report from Statistics Canada which shows that one in every five adults in Canada reported not having any prescription insurance to cover medication costs. Non-adherence to prescription because of cost was reported by 17 per cent of those without prescription drug coverage, almost 2.5 times higher than those with coverage.

Based on a 2021 survey conducted to examine pharmaceutical access and use across regions and sociodemographic groups during the pandemic, Statistics Canada found that the share of those reporting no prescription coverage varied considerably from one province to the next. That proportion ranges from 14 per cent of those surveyed in Nova Scotia, up to 26 per cent of those surveyed in British Columbia.

Not surprisingly, seniors were the most likely to report not having coverage for medication costs. Immigrants and racialized persons – those belonging to visible minority populations defined under the Employment Equity Act – also had a notably higher percentage reporting that they did not have prescription drug coverage. More than 29 per cent of both immigrants surveyed and racialized persons surveyed had no coverage.

Overall, Statistics Canada found that prescription medication use was lower among those who did not have prescription drug coverage. “Given the cost of taking prescription medication, not having prescription insurance may be an important barrier to accessing medication when needed,” they write. “Among people who reported having some level of prescription insurance coverage in 2021, 70 per cent reported having taken or been prescribed medication in the 12 months preceding the survey, compared with 56 per cent of those without prescription insurance coverage.” 

More, they say close to one in five reported that the pandemic affected their prescription coverage.

“Unlike every other developed country with universal health care, Canada does not have universal coverage of prescription medication,” the report states, adding that the decision to implement universal pharmacare is one that has been long debated in the country.

“This research highlighted the problems with the varying provincial plans by identifying some of the gaps in the current system,” the report states, adding that future research could assess more clearly the proportion of Canadians with insurance coverage.