Nova Scotia lagging behind in access to cancer treatment: Advocacy group

HALIFAX – A coalition of 35 Canadian organizations wants Nova Scotia to improve access to cancer medication.

CanCertainty says the province is lagging behind when it comes to providing fair and equal access to chemotherapy in pill form, because while it automatically pays for intravenous cancer treatments, patients have to apply for funding for oral treatments. The group says that can lead to delays in treatment and if patients don’t get approved funding they can be on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars in prescription drugs.

Derek Caine has been in remission for seven years but there’s no cure for his chronic lymphocytic leukemia. He says a relapse is all but certain and the best drug coming onto the market to treat him is in pill form.

“Its scary and that gives me more stress and more worry than waiting,” said Caine. “I mean I’m worried about the disease coming back, I know it will become active again, but how am I going to afford the treatment when its needed is a big, big question mark.”

Story continues below advertisement

Right now people receiving the treatment pay $8,000 a month for the drug, and while the costs could go down with time, Caine said he would be bankrupted if he had to pay for it himself. Mary Lou Robertson is a medication resource specialist with Capital Health, she helps patients find the funding they need for their prescriptions. She said patients in Caine’s position can apply to the province for funding but how much is covered is based on income, and to get the coverage patients have to deal with delays and paperwork.

The latest health and medical news emailed to you every Sunday.

“It shouldn’t be right that somebody, just because they have a certain type of cancer that needs an IV drug, doesn’t get asked those questions,” said Robertson. “Whereas a person who gets a type of cancer that needs an oral drug gets put through all of these questions, paperwork, and they often have to wait longer for their treatments”

Insurance plans also cover some of the costs, said Robertson, but many of those plans have a cap on prescription drugs far below the cost of oral chemotherapy treatments, which can go as high as $11,000 per month.

Caine’s first round of chemotherapy more than seven years ago cost 6-thousand dollars a month. Back then his insurance company covered the bill. Now he’s retired and doesn’t have that safety net.

Unless changes are made, more patients will have to deal with the financial burden because more oral treatments are being developed. “Right now if you look at it, about 30 per cent of all cancer treatments is by pill form,” said Dr. Bruce Colwell, a medical oncologist. “And if you look at the pipeline, what new drugs are coming out, about 60 per cent of all the new drugs are going to be pill form.”

Story continues below advertisement

Caine said the system leaves him at a disadvantage.

“Treatment of catastrophic illnesses should be looked after, we should be looked after equally, equally right across Canada,” he said. “I’m a second class citizen and I really don’t appreciate it.”

Health Minister Leo Glavine told Global News his department is looking at the issue.


Sponsored content