Patchwork Drug Coverage Causing Financial Hardship for Many Cancer Patients

    Canadian Cancer Society Calls on Federal Government to Establish
    National Catastrophic Drug Program

TORONTO, Sept. 14 /CNW/ - Canada's patchwork system of drug coverage is leading to financial hardship for many cancer patients, says a Canadian Cancer Society report released today.

The report - Cancer Drug Access for Canadians - shows that 1 in 12 Canadians face catastrophic drug costs, defined as more than three per cent of a household's net income.

The Canadian Cancer Society report sets the stage for an important symposium about cancer drug access taking place tomorrow (Tuesday, September 15) in Ottawa. As well, the Society hopes to see this crucial healthcare topic addressed at the annual conference of provincial and territorial health ministers taking place in Winnipeg on Thursday, September 17 and Friday, September 18.

"The Canadian Cancer Society strongly believes that all Canadians must have access to cancer drug treatments without financial hardship, no matter where they live in this country," says Dan Demers, Director, Public Issues, Canadian Cancer Society. "During cancer treatment a person needs to focus on their health. It is not a time for a patient to worry about how they are going to pay for the drugs. This is simply unacceptable."

While cancer drugs create treatment options for cancer patients, the newer generation of medications can be costly. If drugs are administered in a hospital they are free - paid for by Canada's publicly-funded health system. However, if drugs are taken at home, which is increasingly the case, they are paid for by the patient. Not all Canadians are insured for these costs. Low income, seasonal and self-employed workers often do not have access to affordable insurance.

    The Canadian Cancer Society report shows that:

    -   About 50 per cent of newer cancer drugs are taken at home and, as a
        result, patients are responsible for the cost
    -   About three-quarters of cancer drugs taken at home cost over $20,000
        per year
    -   The average cost of a single course of treatment with more recent
        cancer drugs is $65,000 - almost as high as the average annual income
        of Canadians

"The gaps and disparities that currently exist within Canada's health system to reimburse patients for drug costs can cause financial hardship for many cancer patients," says Paul Lapierre, Vice President, Public Affairs and Cancer Control, Canadian Cancer Society. "In some cases, it can mean that patients forgo treatment because they can't afford it."

The report highlights the critical need for the federal government to take action to alleviate the patchwork approach to drug coverage in this country.

"The Society is urging the federal government to establish a national catastrophic drug program before this situation worsens," says Demers. "It's time for the federal government to step up to the plate and show they are serious about Canadians' health and are committed to universal health care."

The events taking place this week are:

Cancer Drug Access Symposium, Tuesday, September 15

The Society's report will be discussed at an important public policy forum taking place in Ottawa on September 15. Optimizing Cancer Drug Access will bring together numerous stakeholders to build action plans around major issues related to cancer drug access. The Society has been pivotal in organizing this symposium, which is hosted by the Public Policy Forum.

Annual conference of provincial and territorial health ministers, Thursday, September 17 and Friday, September 18

The Society is urging the health ministers to continue to push the federal government to show leadership in determining a coordinated, consistent approach to drug access in Canada.

In 2008, the health ministers expressed a clear need for federal government leadership to improve drug access within Canada's publicly-funded system. They called on the federal government to work with them to create solutions.

"One year later, our country is still facing the same issues with catastrophic drug costs," says Demers. "Action must be taken so that Canadians' confidence in our universal healthcare system doesn't erode."

Patchwork approach

Progress to address catastrophic drug coverage has been made, but an uncoordinated approach has resulted in a patchwork approach across Canada.

    -   Many provincial governments have established catastrophic drug
        programs to provide at least some protection for their residents.

    -   Private insurers have increased the maximum payouts for claims to
        reflect the new drug cost realities. However, more than one in six
        private plans has an annual or lifetime cap, many of which are below
        the costs of newer cancer drugs.

    -   There are no agreed-upon standards for how much a cancer patient
        should be expected to pay for prescription drugs.

    -   There are significant disparities between provinces and between
        public and private insurers about which specific cancer drugs are
        covered. This leads to situations where a patient in one province may
        not have access to drugs that a resident in another province can

"More needs to be done to ensure consistency of drug coverage for all cancer patients in Canada," says Lapierre.

Available for interviews: a family member of a cancer patient who struggled to pay for expensive chemotherapy treatment.

SOURCE Canadian Cancer Society (National Office)

For further information: For further information: to arrange interviews with the family member or Canadian Cancer Society spokespeople, or to obtain the report Cancer Drug Access for Canadians, contact: Alexa Giorgi, Bilingual Communications Specialist, (416) 934-5681

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