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Canada Eric Hoskins resigns as Ontario Health Minister to lead national pharmacare project

Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins speaks during a news conference in Vancouver on Jan. 20, 2016.

DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The federal government is planning to take a serious look at establishing a national pharmacare program and is expected to announce Tuesday that Ontario's former health minister will spearhead the effort.

Eric Hoskins quit his Ontario cabinet post and resigned as a member of Provincial Parliament, effective immediately, on Monday afternoon.

"In leaving Queen's Park, I am determined to continue building better health care for all Canadians," he said in a statement that gave no reason for his abrupt departure. "That path and journey will become clearer in the days ahead."

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Dr. Hoskins's new job will be announced in the federal budget on Tuesday, two Queen's Park sources confirmed.

Dr. Hoskins, a family doctor who co-founded the charity War Child Canada before entering politics, is a long-time proponent of universal pharmacare.

He was the architect of a new Ontario program that provides free prescription drugs for all children and youth, regardless of their family's income – a program he hoped would pave the way for broader public drug coverage across the country.

"[Dr. Hoskins] has … been instrumental in making sure Ontario is leading the effort to expand our system with historic initiatives like OHIP+, which has made prescription drugs free for everyone under the age of 25," Premier Kathleen Wynne said in a statement.

"There is much more work to do and I know Eric will look forward to telling you about how he will be involved."

Oak Ridges-Markham MPP Helena Jaczek, a former chief medical officer of health for York Region, north of Toronto, will take over Ontario's health portfolio.

Michael Coteau has been appointed to fill Dr. Jaczek's former role at Community and Social Services. He will also keep his current jobs as Minister of Children and Youth Services and Minister Responsible for Anti-Racism.

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Dr. Hoskins is the latest high-profile Ontario cabinet minister to confirm he won't be on the ballot when Ms. Wynne's Liberals face off against a Progressive Conservative Party riven by the downfall of its former leader, Patrick Brown.

Deb Matthews, the former deputy premier; Liz Sandals, former secretary of the treasury board; and Brad Duguid, former economic development minister, all announced they were bowing out before the end of last year. They were replaced in a cabinet shuffle last month but are staying on as MPPs until the election.

Former environment minister Glen Murray resigned last summer to lead the Pembina Institute, an Alberta-based environmental group.

In past meetings with his federal and provincial counterparts, Dr. Hoskins has advocated for Canada's universal, single-payer health-care system to be expanded to cover prescription drugs.

Right now, Canadians pay for their medications through a combination of public insurance – which is usually reserved for the poor, the old and those with catastrophic drug costs – as well as private insurance and out-of-pocket payments.

In a report released last fall, the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) estimated that 700,000 Canadians have no drug coverage and another 3.6 million have subpar coverage that means they can't always afford their prescriptions.

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The report concluded that a universal, single-payer pharmacare program could save the country $4.2-billion a year, an estimate predicated on drug prices coming down because of national bulk buying.

But the $4.2-billion figure reflected overall savings for public payers, private insurers and individual Canadians combined.

Governments would have to pick up much more of the tab than they do now if national pharmacare were to replace private insurance and out-of-pocket and payments.

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