Cancer patients in Nova Scotia who want to take oral medications at home instead of being treated at hospital will continue to suffer financially under the new Liberal budget, according to a patient advocacy group.
"It is deeply disappointing," said Deb Maskins, a kidney cancer patient and co-founder of CanCertainty, a coalition of 35 cancer organizations.
The 2017-2018 provincial budget was tabled Thursday but doesn't address the costs of cancer drugs prescribed for patients outside of a hospital setting,
The provincial Health Department covers the cost of cancer treatments administered intravenously in a hospital setting. Patients who take oral medication at home are responsible for the costs.
For "a modest investment" of $1.8 million, the government could spare patients the financial burden of paying out of pocket for prescribed cancer medication, Maskins told CBC Nova Scotia's Information Morning on Friday.
$11M spent on oral cancer drugs
Those without private insurance can apply to Nova Scotia's family pharmacare program. But either way, the deductible and co-payment ceilings for cancer drugs are high and represent a significant percentage of family income, Maskins said.
"That represents an average of $3,000 per year for every year they stay on the drug," she said.
Health Minister Leo Glavine said the government currently spends $11 million to $12 million annually on oral cancer drugs under several pharmacare programs administered by the province.
"We have been working with Cancertainty to look at this issue," he said. "In fact, after a recent meeting, we reviewed our internal processes to ensure patients accessing oral cancer therapies through our programs are not experiencing excessive delays.
"As a result, coverage is processed the same day an application is received."
'Mythical pharmacare program'
CanCertainty hired an economist to determine what the government would have to spend to close the coverage gap between hospital treatment and medication required for out-of-hospital care for those with no private insurance, or limited coverage.
The data received from the Department of Health showed $1.8 million would be required, Angela Rocchi said Friday.
"This is the first time we've seen these numbers from Cancertainty so we need to validate them," Glavine said.
"We also continue to push for a national pharmacare program. We will see how quickly we can advance this work as a region. If not, we will look to see what we can do on our own, provincially, to resolve this issue."
Maskins said the Liberals should have included the $1.8 million in this budget while continuing the quest for federal funding.
"We cannot continue to wait for this mythical pharmacare program," she said. "Cancer patients cannot afford to wait."
Coverage in western provinces
Most of the western provinces cover oral cancer drugs for patient use outside of hospitals and Ontario is beginning to address the problem, Maskins said.
A check of drug coverage policies across the country showed:
- Canadians living in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan or Manitoba have their cancer drugs paid by the provincial government regardless of their age, income level or whether they are intravenously or orally administered.
- Although the funding mechanisms are different, Canadians in Quebec also have both intravenous and oral cancer drugs reimbursed, regardless of age or income level.
- Oral, take-home cancer drugs are covered by the territorial governments but sometimes with deductibles of less than $500.
The other three Atlantic provinces also lack universal coverage for cancer drugs.