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Prescription Drug Coverage in Canada

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Prescription medications play a vital role in maintaining Canadians’ health. However, prescription drugs can be costly, and many Canadians struggle to pay for needed medications. This article provides a comprehensive overview of prescription drug coverage in Canada to help you understand your options and make informed decisions.

What is Prescription Drug Coverage?

Prescription drug coverage, or prescription drug insurance, helps individuals pay for prescription medications. It is a type of group health benefits that covers some or all of the costs of prescription drugs and medications.

With prescription drug coverage, you pay a portion of the medication cost, known as a copayment. The insurance plan pays the remainder. Some plans require you to pay a deductible before coverage begins. Others have a coinsurance structure where you and the insurer share costs.

Prescription drug coverage is offered through:

  • Public provincial/territorial drug plans
  • Private/employer drug plans
  • Individual private plans

Your health and finances must understand your prescription drug coverage options. Insufficient coverage can lead people to skip needed medications due to high costs.

How Does Prescription Drug Coverage Work?

The specifics of prescription drug coverage vary between provincial drug plans and private insurers. But some standard features include:

Eligibility Requirements

Most private and public plans have eligibility criteria you must meet to qualify for coverage. For example, provincial seniors’ drug plans are available at age 65. Private employer plans require you to be an employee or dependent.

Covered Medications

Drug plans do not cover all medications—formularies list which prescription drugs are covered. Restricted lists mean only certain drugs are covered for a given condition. Open formularies provide more choice. Plans may exclude experimental or lifestyle medications.


You pay out-of-pocket until reaching the annual deductible amount. Then, the plan covers a portion of the costs. Higher deductibles mean lower premiums.

Copayments / Coinsurance

You pay a fixed copayment amount per prescription. With coinsurance, you cover a percentage of the cost. Typical amounts are 30% to 35%.


Plans have annual or lifetime limits on coverage. Once you reach the limit, you cover 100% of the costs for that year. Maximums help control insurer costs.

Step Therapy

You may need to try cheaper first-line drugs for some medications before the plan covers more expensive therapies.

Prior Authorization

Your provider may need to demonstrate that a medication is medically necessary before the insurer provides coverage. This ensures appropriate and cost-effective use of high-cost drugs.

What is the Best Prescription Drug Coverage?

The “best” prescription drug coverage depends on your unique needs and situation. Essential factors to consider include:

  • The breadth of drug coverage: Does the plan’s formulary include your specific medications? Are there restrictive policies?
  • Cost-sharing: What will your out-of-pocket costs be under deductibles, copays, and coinsurance? What are the maximums?
  • Eligibility: Do you meet the criteria? Does the plan cover dependents?
  • Convenience: Is the plan widely accepted? How do you make claims? Are network pharmacies available?
  • Premiums: How much are the monthly or annual costs for coverage? Is it affordable?
  • Provider choice: Does the plan allow you to fill prescriptions at your preferred pharmacy?
  • Administration: Is the insurer easy to work with? Do they have a good reputation for claims processing and customer service?

Consider public and private options to determine the optimal drug coverage for your situation. Enlisting a knowledgeable insurance broker can help you navigate your choices.

How to Apply for Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage

Medicare is Canada’s national health insurance program for seniors and others. Medicare Part D provides outpatient prescription drug coverage. Here is how to apply for Medicare Part D prescription coverage:

  1. Determine When You Can Apply

If you currently have Medicare, you can change your prescription drug coverage during Annual Enrollment from October 15 to December 7 each year. Your new coverage starts January 1.

If you’re newly eligible for Medicare, your Initial Enrollment Period is 3 months before your 65th birthday month until 3 months after. Enroll before your birth month to get coverage the first of that month.

You may also qualify for Special Enrollment outside these periods if you had creditable coverage that ended.

  1. Review Plan Options

Use the Medicare Plan Finder tool on medicare.gov to compare Part D plans in your location. Consider premiums, deductibles, formularies, pharmacies, ratings, and yearly costs. Medicare mails a list of available plans annually.

  1. Enroll in a Plan

You can enroll online at medicare.gov, call 1-800-MEDICARE, or work with an insurance broker. If you don’t select a plan, Medicare auto-enrolls you in a plan that may not suit your needs.

  1. Send Required Documentation

You may need proof of eligibility, like your red, white, and blue Medicare card. Retain records showing your enrollment and effective dates.

Why is Prescription Drug Coverage Important?

Prescription drug coverage provides crucial financial protection against the high and rising costs of medications. It can be lifesaving for those who cannot afford vitally essential prescriptions. Reasons for adequate coverage matters include:

  • Prescriptions are costly. In 2020, Canadians spent over $39 billion on medications. Costs are rising faster than inflation as more advanced drugs become available.
  • Essential medications would be unaffordable for many without insurance. For example, drugs that treat conditions like diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis can cost thousands per year.
  • Paying for prescriptions may mean cutting back on basic needs. Surveys show Canadians skimp on groceries and utilities to afford medicines.
  • Skipping doses due to underinsurance leads to poor health outcomes. Medical complications result in higher overall health system costs.
  • Drug coverage brings peace of mind. You can access required medications worry-free, knowing costs are covered through insurance.
  • Public plans have gaps. Provincial formularies exclude some drug therapies. Private plans help fill coverage gaps.

Canadians value prescription medications for maintaining health. With prescription drug costs continually rising, insurance protection is essential for most households. Understanding your options allows wise coverage decisions.

What are the different types of prescription drug plans in Canada?

There are several main types of prescription drug plans in Canada:

  • Provincial/territorial government plans – Each province and territory provides prescription drug coverage to certain groups like seniors and social assistance recipients. Plans differ between jurisdictions.
  • Employer-sponsored plans – Many employers offer group drug plans as part of employee benefits. They cover employees and often dependents.
  • Individual private plans – These are purchased directly by individuals/families needing supplemental coverage. Provided by private insurers.
  • Public service plans – Federal, provincial, and municipal government workers often receive generous prescription benefits through their health plans.

Who is eligible for public prescription drug plans?

Eligibility for provincial/territorial prescription drug plans depends on factors like age, income level, and health/disability status. Groups covered by public plans include:

  • Seniors – All provinces cover seniors between the ages of 65 and 67.
  • Social assistance recipients – All those receiving provincial income assistance are covered.
  • Recipients of disability support programs – Coverage for individuals getting disability payments.
  • Children in care – Prescription drugs are covered for children in foster care or government custody.

What should I know before purchasing private prescription drug insurance?

When buying private prescription drug coverage, it’s important to understand key factors like:

  • Deductibles/copays/coinsurance – Know your out-of-pocket costs
  • Formularies – Ensure needed medications are covered
  • Exclusions – Certain drug categories may not be covered
  • Maximums – Be aware of yearly or lifetime limits on claims
  • Network pharmacies – Check if your pharmacy is in-network
  • Rating factors – Age, gender, and health impact premiums
  • Claims procedures – Understand requirements for reimbursement
  • Pre-existing conditions- May affect ability to get coverage

How much does prescription drug insurance cost per month?

Monthly premiums for prescription drug insurance can range from $15 for basic generic plans up to $150 or more for comprehensive brand-name coverage with low deductibles. Average costs are $50 to $75 per month. Final costs depend on age, pre-existing conditions, and chosen deductible levels.

Does my employer have to provide prescription drug benefits?

There is no legal requirement for employers to provide prescription drug benefits except in Quebec, where employers must offer minimum coverage. However, many employers voluntarily include drug coverage in their employee benefits packages to attract top talent.

What should I do if my drug claim gets denied?

First, verify that the medication and amount are covered under your plan. If it should be covered, contact your insurer to discuss the reason for denial. Ask for a formal appeal if the initial denial was incorrect. Provide any required additional information requested. If the denial stands upon appeal, you may have to pay out-of-pocket or change medications.

Does prescription drug coverage pay for over-the-counter medications?

Over-the-counter (OTC) medications are usually excluded from prescription plans. However, some plans may cover select OTC drugs prescribed by a physician. Extended health plans covering all prescribed drugs will also cover OTC preparations. Check plan terms to see if your specific OTC medication is covered when prescribed.


Prescription drugs play an increasingly important role in healthcare. But medications come at a cost that strains household budgets. Having adequate prescription drug coverage helps Canadians of all ages access needed medicines while protecting their finances.

By learning how drug plans work and carefully reviewing public and private insurance options, you can secure optimal prescription medication coverage for your unique situation. Partnering with an experienced insurance broker provides expert guidance in navigating choices.

With the right prescription drug coverage, you gain invaluable peace of mind knowing critical therapies are accessible and affordable regardless of price tags. Don’t take chances with your health and financial well-being. Make sure you have comprehensive prescription medication insurance suitable for your needs.

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