A new Statistics Canada study confirms that financial limitations are keeping people without private or employer-sponsored drug coverage from following through with their prescriptions.

It's true for both those who have no coverage at all and people who have some coverage through provincial or existing federal prescription programs.

The results of the study come as the New Democrats and the government negotiate the broad principles that will shape a federal pharmacare program.

The government is expected to enshrine those principles in legislation as part of a political pact with the NDP to secure support on key votes.

The Statistics Canada study, which was funded by Women and Gender Equality Canada, shows the percentage of Canadians with some kind of drug coverage increased in 2019.

Eighty-one per cent of men had some form of coverage in 2019, compared to 79.5 per cent in 2015-2016, while that number among women increased from 80.3 per cent to 81.8 per cent. The figures do not include people who live in the territories.

The increase was "mainly driven by the expansion of government-sponsored plans in various provinces, such as Ontario, Alberta and Prince Edward Island," authors Fei-Ju Yang and Shikha Gupta said in the study. 

Canada is the only country that offers universal health care without universal coverage for prescription drugs. Most provinces offer some kind of prescription drug plan for vulnerable people, including families with low incomes, seniors and children, but the level of coverage varies widely across the country. 

Seniors were most likely to have their prescriptions covered by the government, the study found.

A 2017 study shows Canada also has one of the highest rates of seniors who don't fill their prescriptions or take the appropriate dose of their medication because of the cost, compared to peer countries like France, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Just over seven per cent of women and five per cent of men on government-sponsored plans reported that the out-of-pocket cost kept them from filling their prescriptions or taking the full dose.

That's compared to 4.4 per cent of women and 3.4 per cent of men who have drug coverage under their employee plans. 

"Having coverage does not imply having adequate coverage," the authors said in their study.

"Many people who have access to a drug insurance plan may not be able to afford medications because of their incapacity to bear out-of-pocket costs in the form of copayments and deductibles."

They also found inequities in access to coverage affecting some racialized groups, and that immigrants were less likely to have access to drug coverage than people who were born Canadian.

The New Democrats have asserted that the federal government should commit to a single-payer, universal program, though it's not clear if they've won Liberals over to their position. 

The parties initially planned to pass a pharmacare bill before the House rose for the holidays in December, but couldn't come to an agreement on the content of the legislation.

They've set a new deadline to table the legislation by March 1.

Other interest groups, including the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association, have suggested an alternative model that would see the government offer coverage to people without a private or employer-sponsored plan.

Yang and Gupta said in the study that their findings justify the need for a more equitable pharmacare system, but also emphasized the need to "strengthen efforts to improve the affordability of medications for specific vulnerable groups."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 10, 2023.