Renewed Call to Focus on Cancer Drug Access This Fall

For many of us, September brings a renewed sense of the possible – of what we can achieve by working together. This fall, cancer advocates hope that our work to highlight the obvious gap between intravenous and take-home cancer drug coverage will lead to some positive steps towards universal coverage for ALL cancer medications.

As we have all said so many times, whether a drug is fully funded for a cancer patient should not depend upon whether the drug goes into the vein or into the mouth – or whether it is administered in a hospital or a home setting. It’s time to level that playing field with a program announcement in the provinces that have two completely different systems for intravenous and take-home cancer meds: Ontario, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, and PEI.

Here’s a snapshot of where we are today:

March 2014: 35 cancer patient organizations, backed by oncologists and other healthcare professionals, came together to launch the CanCertainty Campaign – a campaign specifically targeted at resolving an obvious gap in cancer coverage. We recognized that this is not an issue for any ONE cancer, but an issue for ALL cancers and for every new cancer diagnosis in each of the five provinces that have lagged behind in providing access to new orally administered cancer therapies.

Ontario: The Take-Home Cancer Issue is Being Studied; Will Need Our Support

On May 8th, CancerCare Ontario brought together a wide range of stakeholders to discuss the issues surrounding coverage of oral (and other take-home) cancer medications. The CanCertainty Coalition was represented at that meeting. We were pleased to hear strong consensus from oncologists and many experts working within the cancer system that this inequity must be resolved.

We look forward to a full report from CancerCare Ontario to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care (and to our new Health Minister, Dr. Eric Hoskins) later this fall. When the report is released, cancer patients and advocates will need to ensure that their elected members all fully appreciate the urgency of rectifying this inequity.  We cannot afford to have the report filed for future consideration, or pending further studies that would further delay equal access to cancer medications. Stay tuned!

Atlantic: Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island

The CanCertainty Coalition has been reaching out to oncologists, nurses, pharmacists, cancer groups and cancer patients and their families across Atlantic Canada in preparation for an awareness campaign that will launch this fall.

While some have quietly said that specific Atlantic provinces will not consider implementing any sort of equity in cancer drug coverage until Ontario makes the first move, we are confident that the voices of Atlantic Canada CAN and WILL make a difference.

Canadians living in Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and PEI should be outraged with what they are expected to pay out of pocket if cancer strikes – especially given that Canada’s highest incidence and mortality rates are in Atlantic Canada.

A cancer medication that costs a patient $0 in BC, AB, SK, or MB can result in deductibles in the tens of thousands of dollars in Nova Scotia. A family with a pre-cancer diagnosis total household income of $120,000 ($85,000 net) would be expected to pay $23,400 up front as their deductible, and then a partial cost for the next $17,550 PER YEAR. These unexpected costs hit at a time when the patient is in a crisis from the cancer diagnosis and may need time of work due to treatment side effects.

How do the other provinces fare?

  • A family with similar income in PEI would face a deductible of $14,400
  • In Newfoundland and Labrador that “pay up front” deductible would be $8,500.  
  • In New Brunswick, if the cancer drug is listed by the province, the newly implemented drug plan limits the premium to $2,000 per person per year, along with a $30 copayment per prescription.

In Western Canada, provincial Health Ministries have long since recognized that cancer is cancer. Treatment is treatment. IV and take-home cancer drugs are funded equally. For the same drug that costs a NS family $23,400 as a deductible, patients in BC, AB, SK, or MB would pay what they would pay for intravenous - $0.

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