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September 2005
Vol. 6, no. 9

Perspectives on Labour and Income

Out-of-pocket spending on prescription drugs
Jacqueline Luffman

  • Over 300 million prescriptions are filled in Canada each year—about 10 for each man, woman and child. In 2002, over 6 in 10 households reported out-of-pocket spending on prescription drugs totalling $3 billion.
  • While out-of-pocket prescription drug spending remains a small percentage of the overall household budget (less than 1%), average expenditures rose 71% (in 2002 dollars) between 1992 and 2002, from $127 to $218.
  • Prescription drugs make up the largest portion of out-of-pocket health care spending for senior households—27.3% of their health care budget in 2002 compared with 17.7% for non-senior households.
  • Province of residence is the major factor affecting out-of-pocket prescription drug expenditures, even after taking into account income levels and other household characteristics. As a result, households with similar incomes spend different amounts depending on where they live.

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Jacqueline Luffman is with the Labour and Household Surveys Analysis Division. She can be reached at (613) 951-1563 or

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