Canadian patients struggle to finance cancer treatment

WATCH ABOVE: A preview for 16×9’s “Cost of Cancer”

When Gary Pope talks about his wife Judy – there is no doubt he would have done anything for her.

The couple was together for almost 40 years – before she lost her battle to cancer.

“She was fantastic. She was such a loving caring person,” Gary explains,

Judy – who was diagnosed with kidney cancer – was given a pill to treat her cancer.

“If it wasn’t for that cancer drug I don’t think she would have lasted as long as she did,” says Gary.

Gary Pope and his wife Judy were together for almost 40 years before she lost her battle to cancer. 16x9

At first, he says, his company insurance covered the price of the drug. But years later – Gary’s employer changed insurers and he was now on the hook to pay more than $3,000 a month.

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READ MORE: How much do cancer drugs cost Canadians?

“We were average people. I didn’t even make that kind of money,” Pope says.

The problem is, Canada’s healthcare system covers the cost of hospital care for everyone, but it leaves many people without funding for prescription drugs. Your age, income and the province you live in will determine whether you have to pay for this treatment or not.

“Prescription drugs it’s what some people refer to as a dog’s breakfast. It’s all kinds of different policies in every province,” explains Steve Morgan, director for the UBC Centre for Health Services and Policy Research.

WATCH BELOW: Dr James Gowing, a medical oncologist, talks about the advances made in cancer treatment over the past forty years

So some cancer patients, whose course of treatment is taking oral cancer drugs instead of getting radiation or intravenous chemotherapy, might have to pay thousands of dollars for their care because it’s taken at home.

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“It’s not fair to say that we’ll give you the coverage if it’s in the hospital but we won’t if it’s in the community,” says Morgan.

It didn’t feel fair to Gary either. His family reached out to the Ontario Government for help – but was turned away.

“I was totally shocked surprised because that was her lifeline, the pills. And the government would not pay for her lifeline,” Gary says.

WATCH BELOW: Judy’s daughter, Sheri LeClerk, talks about the efforts her family made to lobby the Government of Ontario for help. Judy was diagnosed with kidney cancer and the family couldn’t afford the cost of her oral cancer medication.

16×9 reached out to Ontario’s Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, Eric Hoskins, to talk about oral cancer drug coverage for patients. The Minister declined to do an interview, and never got back to us with a statement.

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“Around the world there’s no other country that would say we’re going to cover the cost of you visiting a doctor, and being diagnosed with a need, and being prescribed a treatment, but we’re not going to cover the cost of the treatment itself,” says Morgan.

According to Morgan, Canada’s universal coverage is flawed because prescription drugs aren’t part of its public healthcare system.

“Every single country with universal coverage for healthcare provides universal coverage for prescription drugs. Except for Canada,” he says.

Since Judy didn’t qualify for government funding and no longer had private insurance she decided to stop taking her oral cancer drug because she didn’t want to bankrupt her family.

Judy died in hospital roughly six months later.

To learn more about oral cancer drug coverage in Canada, watch 16×9 Saturday at 7pm.

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