Pills or Pot Roast: More Canadians having to choose between personal and financial health

McGuinty government huge opportunity to bridge growing gulf

TORONTO, March 12, 2010 /Canada NewsWire/ - Canadians are increasingly being forced to choose between their personal health and their financial future, according to a study released today by the Canadian Council for Integrated Healthcare (CCIH).

The study, entitled: 'I'll just take my medication every other day...,' looked at the patchwork of provincial legislation across Canada. It found the combination of rising drug costs (estimated to have risen 589 per cent from 1985 to 2007) and the recent recession has left many Canadians' financial and physical health at odds. The study cites the fact that one in 12 Canadians say they have not taken necessary medication because of cost.

"The Dalton McGuinty government has the opportunity to help bridge this growing gap through its current review of the Ontario Drug and Benefit Act," says Caroline Brereton, a member of CCIH, an independent healthcare think-tank. "In the face of spiralling drug costs, Premier McGuinty has the chance to improve access to affordable drugs as a basic component of Ontarians health care."

Canadians spent $25 billion on drugs in 2008. After hospitals, it's the most expensive health care cost. As the Ontario Government undertakes a review of the Ontario Drug and Benefit Act (formerly Bill 102), the CCIH is urging the McGuinty Government to deliver a universal plan that:

- Provides incentives or funding to ensure every Ontarian has access to basic coverage for essential drugs to ensure the costs do not exceed 5 per cent of a person's net income.

- Enforces a ceiling or maximum on what any patient must pay for prescription drugs.

- Increases accountability by developing a more transparent process for decision making on why certain drugs or populations are, or are not, eligible for funding.

"The CCIH and the health care community have been calling for universal standards and catastrophic drug coverage for years," said Brereton. "To date, the McGuinty government's public comments suggest catastrophic drug coverage will not be part of its current reform. We believe this is a mistake. Poor access to necessary drugs only pushes up overall health costs through increased emergency room visits and other costly interventions."

The study found some positive elements in the current Quebec system. Adopted in 1997, the Quebec plan provides basic coverage and universal access to prescription drugs. It's a mixed system involving private and public insurance plans, where citizens pay a fee similar to Employment Insurance, but where children, the unemployed or residents over 65 do not have to pay a fee.

"For a growing number of Canadians, an illness is not just personally devastating, but financially as well. By pooling the risk as they do in Quebec, citizens are able to get the medication they need and not worry about whether they can pay their mortgage," says Brereton. "Quebec and Ontario have a history of working together. By adopting similar systems of universal access we'd eliminate the postal code lottery and begin to build the heath care system Canadians truly deserve."

The CCIH study can be found here:

The Canadian Council on Integrated Healthcare (CCIH) is a national, independent think-tank. Our mandate is to influence and be a catalyst for change, while building bridges between sectors in the health care system. Founded in 1997 our membership includes key opinion leaders from private health sector, consumers and health professionals.