October 08, 2014

CanCertainty Coalition calling for fair and equal access to take-home cancer therapies in Nova Scotia

Despite the highest cancer incidence and mortality rates in the country, Atlantic Canadians face uncertainty and financial hardship accessing medications taken outside the hospital

New survey shows Nova Scotians want greater and equal access to take-home treatments

Halifax, NS – October 8, 2014 – The CanCertainty Coalition, an unprecedented unification of 35 cancer patient groups, physicians and health care charities from the Atlantic Provinces and the rest of Canada, is calling for fair and equal access to cancer therapies taken at home. Currently, when a cancer patient in Nova Scotia needs a take-home therapy (such as an oral tablet or injectable), their age, private insurance status and income level can result in significant delays in treatment and often unaffordable out-of-pocket costs. In contrast, the same patient would access an intravenous (IV) treatment in a hospital at no cost and no wait-time, regardless of their income or private insurance status. A new survey of residents in Atlantic Canada reveals that more than 80 per cent believe IV and cancer drugs taken orally should be funded equally in their province, and close to 90 per cent believe the wait-time should not exceed two weeks.1

“In the last 10 years, the Nova Scotia government has approved several types of take-home medications for the treatment of a variety of cancers, but they have yet to implement a consistent method of funding them," says Deb Maskens, kidney cancer patient and co-founder, Kidney Cancer Canada. “The onus is on the patient to use their insurance or a provincial Pharmacare plan to fund these therapies, yet traditional chemotherapies given intravenously remain funded with no burden to the patient. Nova Scotians needs to know that if cancer strikes them or their loved one, they will have fair and equal access to the treatment they need.”

Cancer is Not Fair, But Accessing Treatments Should Be

In Atlantic Canada only about three in 10 residents have private insurance coverage2 – one of the lowest rates in the country. Many residents are self-employed, with little to no health insurance coverage.

Of those with private coverage, many plans require significant co-payments and/or cover a limited number of prescription drugs per year. There is a provincial prescription drug program in Nova Scotia to provide help to those without insurance called Pharmacare, but to access help patients must disclose their gross taxable family income, SIN, marital status, and age. The paperwork can delay treatment, and patients can end up with a yearly deductible that is unaffordable for many families. Many face significant time delays to starting oral drug therapy while paperwork is processed with their insurance or Pharmacare, anywhere from 2-6 weeks. Meanwhile, patients on an IV treatment do not face these barriers.

Historically, cancer care consisted of intravenous and radiation therapy. Today, more than one third of cancer treatments are oral medications, and 60 per cent of new cancer treatments under development are oral medications.3

“When I learned that my oral therapy for advanced melanoma was not fully funded by the Nova Scotia government or my private insurance plan, I was absolutely shocked,” says Gordon Doughart of Cape Breton. “I never thought I would have to go through 12 days of paperwork, process and stress to sort out who would cover the cost for my treatment. As Nova Scotians, we need to make our voices heard on this issue because this is simply unfair.”

The Way Forward

A Report from the Cameron Institute which examines the issue highlights benefits to universal funding of cancer medications taken orally which include:4

  • Financial savings to the healthcare system overall. Cancer treatments taken orally are cost effective because patients take them at home, rather than in a hospital-setting;
  • Improved quality of life for cancer patients, their families and compassionate caregivers;
  • Stronger purchaser negotiating positions for the procurement of new prescription drugs;
  • Better more meaningful data for clinical, outcomes and systems researchers;
  • Quicker access for patients to life-saving therapy with better outcomes – the elimination of wait times for cancer drugs taken at home – both oral and injectable medications.

“As a society we don’t tolerate discrimination, so why should we tolerate discrimination among cancer patients? Yet there are countless patients in Atlantic Canada who face discrimination in funding simply because they are prescribed an oral versus an intravenous therapy. Why should it matter whether the cancer drug is an IV or a pill?” says Deb Maskens.  “A perfect example is how this affects kidney cancer patients – where the most effective treatments to control the cancer are oral therapies that can be taken at home.  It’s time we said ‘cancer is cancer’ and put all cancer treatments on an equal footing.” 

About Cancer in Nova Scotia

Cancer is expected to have the fastest growing prevalence of any non-communicable disease in Canada between 2003 and 2023.5   Atlantic Canada has the highest cancer incidence rate in the country, with an estimated 6,100 new cases in Nova Scotia this year.6   Similar to the incidence rate, the mortality rate for all cancers combined is highest in the Atlantic Provinces, with an estimated 2,600 Nova Scotians expected to die of the disease this year.7 

About the CanCertainty Coalition

The CanCertainty Coalition is the united voice of 35 Canadian patient groups, cancer health charities, and caregiver organizations from Atlantic Canada and the rest of the country, joining together to significantly improve the affordability and accessibility of cancer treatment in Atlantic Canada.

The Coalition is comprised of the following patient groups: 

  • Aplastic Anemia and Myelodysplasia Association of Canada (AAMAC)
  • Best Medicines Coalition
  • Bladder Cancer Canada
  • Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada
  • Breast Cancer Action Nova Scotia
  • Canadian Breast Cancer Network
  • Canadian Cancer Action Network
  • Canadian Liver Foundation
  • Canadian Skin Cancer Foundation
  • Canadian Skin Patient Alliance
  • Cancer Advocacy Coalition of Canada
  • Cancer Fight Club
  • Carcinoid Neuroendocrine Tumour Society of Canada
  • Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia Society of Canada (CML Society)
  • CLL Patient Advocacy Group
  • Colon Cancer Canada
  • Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada
  • Gastrointestinal Society
  • GIST Sarcoma Life Raft Group Canada
  • Hope and Cope
  • Kidney Cancer Canada
  • Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada
  • Lung Cancer Canada
  • Lymphoma Canada
  • Melanoma Network of Canada
  • Myeloma Canada
  • Ovarian Cancer Canada
  • Pancreatic Cancer Canada
  • Prostate Cancer Canada
  • Rethink Breast Cancer
  • Save your Skin
  • Testicular Cancer Canada
  • The Canadian CML Network
  • Thyroid Cancer Canada
  • Young Adult Cancer Canada

The campaign is also supported by the Physician Alliance for Cancer Care and Treatment (PACCT).

For more information, visit www.CanCertaintyForAll.ca.

About Kidney Cancer Canada
Kidney Cancer Canada is the first Canadian-based, patient-led registered charity established to improve the quality of life for patients and their families living with kidney cancer. Kidney Cancer Canada advocates for access to new treatments, provides support and information to patients, and works to increase awareness of kidney cancer as a significant health issue. During National Kidney Month (March 2014), Kidney Cancer Canada raised awareness of the need for fair and equal access to cancer medications taken orally. Thirty-four other cancer patient organizations have joined the CanCertainty campaign and coalition to bring attention to this issue and work together towards a solution for all Canadian cancer patients.

For more information, please visit: www.kidneycancercanada.ca.

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For more information, or to book an interview, please contact:
Jaclyn Crawford / Dustin Hamilton
Environics Communications
416-969-2728 / 416-969-2664
[email protected] / [email protected]



1 IVR Atlantic Canada Poll
2 Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association, Facts and Figures 2012
3 Cancer Care Ontario. (2013). Drug funding in Ontario: ensuring equitable access for all patients. Retrieved from at http://www.cqco.ca/common/pages/UserFile.aspx?fileId=291365 (Last accessed February 14, 2014)
4 Taylor, W. D. (2014). The Institutionalized Discrimination of Cancer Patients – Not What Tommy Douglas Intended: A Business Case for Universal Coverage of Oral Cancer Medicines in Ontario and Atlantic Canada.
5 Cancer Statistics at a Glance. Retrieved from http://www.cancer.ca/en/cancer-information/cancer-101/cancer-statistics-at-a-glance/?region=on (Last accessed February 14, 2014)
6 Canadian Cancer Society’s Advisory Committee on Cancer Statistics. Canadian Cancer Statistics 2014. Toronto, ON: Canadian Cancer Society; 2014
7 Ibid

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