WATCH ABOVE: 16×9’s full episode on the cost of cancer
When Gary Pope’s wife Judy was diagnosed with kidney cancer, initially his company insurance policy paid for the pills she was prescribed.
But years later, when his company changed insurers, Gary was on the hook for more than $3,000 per month.
“We were average people,” he says. “I didn’t even make that kind of money.”
WATCH: James Gowing, a medical oncologist, talks about the advances made in cancer treatment over the past forty years
Although Canada’s health-care system covers the cost of hospital care, many patients have to foot the bill for prescription drugs themselves. Whether or not prescriptions are covered comes down to age, income and which province you live in.
This means cancer patients who require radiation or intravenous chemotherapy get treatment for free, but those who are prescribed oral cancer drugs may have to pay thousands of dollars.
READ MORE: How much do cancer drugs cost Canadians?
Steve Morgan, director for the UBC Centre for Health Services and Policy Research, says the patchwork nature of the system – with drug coverage varying wildly from province to province – makes the system difficult for patients to navigate.
“Prescription drugs [is] what some people refer to as a dog’s breakfast. It’s all kinds of different policies in every province,” he says.
WATCH: Judy’s daughter, Sheri LeClerk, talks about the efforts her family made to lobby the Government of Ontario for help
Gary and his family asked the Ontario government for help, but they were turned away.
“I was totally shocked surprised because that was her lifeline, the pills,” he says. “And the government would not pay for her lifeline.”
16×9 contacted Eric Hoskins, Ontario’s Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, for an interview. He declined and did not provide a statement.
Not wanting to bankrupt her family, Judy decided to stop taking her cancer medication. She died in hospital about six months later.
WATCH: Producer Krysia Collyer talks about funding options for cancer patients who have to take oral cancer drugs as treatment