Canadians spent about $34 billion on prescriptions last year and now there's a new plan trying to address that: a national pharmacare program.

Maritimers are weighing in, including a man who's been voicing his concerns about gaps in the system for decades.

Advocate Bill Swan has been speaking out about the need for national pharmacare since 1987, when he couldn't afford his asthma medications.

“So, I went from being completely stable, to that summer I was in the ER three or four times,” said Swan.

Three years ago, Swan started sharing stories of Canadians struggling to pay for their medications on a website called Faces of Pharmacare.

He's the one who wrote up patient stories for the advisory council's final report that was released Wednesday.

“Two or three of the stories are people trying to decide each month, which condition to treat,” Swan said. “It's like a Sophie's Choice.”

Swan is encouraged by what the Liberal-government-appointed advisory council recommends: a $15 billion per year universal drug program with co-payments limited to $2 a prescription for essential medications, and $5 for all other drugs on a yet to be created national list.

The organization representing pharmacists in Nova Scotia welcomes the idea of better access for Canadians, but says there are lots of questions still to be answered.

The head of the Pharmacy Association of Nova Scotia says if the program concentrates too much on buying drugs at a low cost, drug shortages could become a problem.

“If you reduce the cost to a certain amount, Canada is such a small market, that companies may just choose to go elsewhere,” said Allison Bodnar, the CEO of the Pharmacy Association of Nova Scotia.

A national program would replace the current patchwork of more than 100 provincial programs, but the provinces would still have to administer it.

Right now, Nova Scotia spends $370 million on its drug programs.

“We're all interested in finding the most cost-effective means of delivering these programs to Canadians and in our case, we're primarily concerned about Nova Scotians,” said Nova Scotia Health Minister Randy Delorey.

The advisory council estimates a national plan would save families an average of $350 every year and help the one in five people now struggling to pay for their prescriptions.

In its report, the advisory council recommends implementing national pharmacare with a full list of drugs covered by 2027, so it's still a ways away -- and of course there's a federal election first.

With files from CTV Atlantic’s Heidi Petracek.