(Bloomberg) -- A government panel is recommending that Canada adopt a universal public pharmacare program for prescription drugs.

The council, which is advising Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the matter, argued the move to a universal program would reduce the amount Canadians pay for prescription drugs by C$5 billion ($3.8 billion) annually due to stronger negotiating power. It will also reduce drug insurance costs for the nation’s businesses by C$750 per employee.

“The time for universal, single-payer public pharmacare has come,” Eric Hoskins, the former provincial health minister who chairs the council, said Wednesday in a statement. “Let’s complete the unfinished business of universal health care.”

The report kicks off debate on an issue that is expected to feature prominently in October’s election as Canadians decide whether the country should set up a new social program. While Trudeau’s government has said it plans to move ahead with pharmacare, it has been waiting for panel’s recommendations to decide on how wide ranging it should make the program.

According to Wednesday’s report, Canada is the only country in the world with universal health care that doesn’t provide universal drug coverage. The country spent C$34 billion on prescription medications in 2018, the third highest in the world on a per capita basis, the panel said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Theophilos Argitis in Ottawa at targitis@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Theophilos Argitis at targitis@bloomberg.net, Stephen Wicary, Chris Fournier

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