Almost 1 million Canadians give up food, heat to afford prescriptions: study

Almost 1 million Canadians give up food, heat to afford prescriptions: study

Nearly one million Canadians spent less on necessities like food and heat to afford their prescriptions in 2016, according to a new study.

The paper, published Tuesday, found that 730,000 people skimped on food and another 238,000 spent less on heating their home — a total of 968,000 people.

"We knew lots of Canadians were having trouble paying for medication," said Michael Law, lead author on the paper and associate professor in UBC's school of population and public health.

"Now we know they are trading off other everyday necessities in order to pay for prescription drugs."

The study surveyed 28,091 people as part of the Statistics Canada Canadian Community Health Survey, asking questions about their finances and prescriptions.

People without insurance, people with lower incomes and younger people in general were more likely to say they struggle to afford medication.

Indigenous people were nearly twice as likely to report challenges, as were women comparatively to men.

The study also said more than 1.6 million Canadians — 8.2 per cent of people who were prescribed medication in 2016 — didn't fill those prescriptions, skipped doses, or otherwise didn't take the medicine because they couldn't pay for it.

Not taking prescribed medication strains the health-care system, researchers said, as people who stay sick end up taking repeat visits to their doctor or the emergency room. 

The researchers — who are from UBC, Simon Fraser University, McMaster University, and The University of Toronto — said results show that Canada needs to take another look at how prescriptions are covered.

"Despite Canada's reputation of having a universal healthcare system, the fact that so many people cannot afford their medicines is a sign that people are falling through the cracks," Law said.

Universal care, no universal coverage

Canada is the only country in the world that has universal health care but no universal drug coverage.

Previous studies have said Canadians pay the second-highest drug prices in the world, after the United States.

On Friday, B.C. announced prescription-drug deductibles will be lowered or eliminated for those making less than $30,000 a year.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said families earning between $15,000 and $30,000 will no longer pay any deductibles for medication.

The cuts will come with changes to B.C.'s Fair PharmaCare plan on Jan. 1, 2019.