Patient advocates applaud N.S. take-home cancer medication funding, push for permanent fix

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Patient advocates applaud N.S. at home cancer drug funding, push for permanent fix
WATCH: The Nova Scotia Liberals added additional funding for take home cancer medications to its September budget. But advocates and patients say a more permanent fix is needed. Jennifer Grudic reports – Sep 28, 2017

As part of the Nova Scotia Liberals’ September budget announcement, cancer patients in Nova Scotia will soon have assistance in paying for take-home medications.

$800,000 has been set aside for a new cancer therapies program aimed at addressing what Nova Scotia Health Minister Randy Delorey called “catastrophic” drug costs.

“Take-home cancer treatments can cost upwards of $75,000 which may or may not be covered for an individual,” said Delorey.

“We wanted to bring that down to something that might be manageable.”

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The government says the program is expected to cost $2 million in future years and is meant to bridge the funding gap until a more permanent solution is reached.

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“We made it clear when we released the platform that our belief is that moving forward with an Atlantic approach was what we think is how to get to the best position and long-term solution, but we also recognize there needed to be interim efforts and that’s what this program is,” said Delorey.

While the province does pay for cancer medications given intravenously in a hospital, it does not cover the cost of modern cancer medicine which can be taken orally at home.

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The new plan aims to have patients not pay more than four per cent of their net income for cancer therapy medication per year.

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Derek Lesser is part of the Western NS Cancer Support Network and said he has been fighting for these changes since his daughter Julia was diagnosed with Leukemia in 2014.

He said her medication costs $48,000 a year and while she is currently covered by Pharmacare, the funding was set to run out once she graduates in the spring and begins working.

“Personally, I don’t mind the idea of people contributing to it, I just don’t think cancer should come with the shock of getting the diagnosis along with the shock of financial hardship,” Lesser said.

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“I do think the government will move forward with covering all the costs, but in the meantime, in Julia’s case, it’s probably going to be $1,500 she pays instead of $17,000.

He said the budget announcement came as a pleasant surprise to his family. He said while it is a step in the right direction, he’s looking forward to the day when take-home cancer medications are fully covered.

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According to the CanCertainty Coalition, the funding boost for this year means that Nova Scotians will no longer be facing the highest out-of-pocket costs in the country.

“This is a major breakthrough for patients and their families across the province,” said Mary Lou Robertson, a consultant on drug treatment access and supporter of the CanCertainty Coalition.

“CanCertainty looks forward to working with the Ministry of Health and Wellness to ensure that all cancer patients in Nova Scotia can now get their prescribed cancer medications in a safe, timely and equitable way.”

According to the Canadian Cancer Society, 50 per cent of new cancer drugs are formulated for at-home administration.

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Cancer patient advocates say it’s time that Nova Scotia follows the lead of the provinces in Western Canada in not discriminating between in-hospital and take-home treatments.

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“This is incredibly pertinent to Nova Scotia,” said Kelly Grover, VP National Programs and Partners with Ovarian Cancer Canada.

“Not everybody lives close to Halifax — they have to drive in for their chemo. Now they can go to a pharmacist and get their treatment. They can stay home and even work if they’re feeling well enough. It’s so important.”

Delorey said meetings to find a more “permanent” solution are ongoing this fall.

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