Oncologist says Nova Scotia's cancer coverage is inadequate

A Nova Scotia oncologist says he has patients who can't afford to pay for the cancer medications that might save their lives despite years of lobbying the province for more coverage. 

QEII oncologist Dr. Bruce Colwell belongs to the CanCertainty Coalition, a national advocacy group pushing for accessible and affordable oral cancer medications that are taken at home.

The coalition first asked the Nova Scotia government in 2014 to pay for cancer medications taken outside of hospitals.

While the province pays for cancer medications given intravenously in a hospital, it does not cover cancer medicine taken orally at home.

Health depends on wealth 

"With our health-care system, there are differences for health care depending on whether you have money or not," Colwell said.

Ontario and the Atlantic provinces are the only ones that do not cover oral cancer medications.

Colwell said some patients go into debt or seek handouts to pay for medications, while others forgo treatment.

"I've had patients who have second mortgaged homes, borrowed from family, gone online and had a GoFundMe [fundraiser]," he said. "I've also had patients who've said, 'I just can't afford it.'"

Colwell said he met with Health Minister Leo Glavine in December and CanCertainty will meet with him again in June.

Nova Scotia's decision not to cover oral cancer medications is "arbitrary," he said.

"A province like Saskatchewan, which is about the same size as we are, they fund it all." 

Province wants national response

The Department of Health and Wellness sent a statement to CBC saying the province understands some patients "may be experiencing financial hardships."

Spokesperson Tracy Barron said the province continues to examine the issue and to push for a national pharmacare program. 

She said premiers agreed at the last Council of Atlantic Premiers' meeting to explore new ways to work together to collaborate on issues related to drug plan coverage. That work is now being developed, said Barron.