Prescription medications beyond many older Canadians’ budgets

by Leo Almazora03 Feb 2017
A new study has revealed that one in 12 older Canadians skip their prescription medications because they can’t afford them. The trend is linked with the lack of universal drug coverage, as it is most pronounced among Canadians between 55 and 64 years old who are not old enough to avail of public drug benefits for seniors.

According to the Globe and Mail, Canada had the second-highest rates of cost-related prescription drug non-adherence among 11 countries studied, with the US topping the list. The analysis was based on data from the 2014 international health policy survey conducted by the Commonwealth Fund, a private US-based foundation that advocates for healthcare system improvements.

The survey found that older Canadians who could not pay for their medications tended to have fair or poor health, and no health insurance. “When you face a barrier to filling prescriptions that help maintain good health, you end up with worse health status and you end up in hospital and it makes us all pay in the long run,” said Dr. Steve Morgan, study author and health policy professor at the University of British Columbia’s School of Population and Public Health.

The research echoes another Commonwealth Fund survey from 2007, which found similar incidences of costs prohibiting Canadians from getting necessary prescription drugs. Canada is one of only a handful of countries that have a universal health care system but no public drug coverage plan, and it’s impacting the health of many across the nation, Morgan said.

Drug coverage across the country is spotty: provinces offer limited coverage for low-income people, people with disabilities, or seniors, while others get their benefits from private insurance such as employer-provided plans. Morgan noted that some are limited to very expensive drugs, leaving patients to pay out-of-pocket for lower-cost medicines that nonetheless take a significant financial toll on some.

A 2012 study conducted by Toronto researchers found an increased likelihood of death among low-income diabetes patients compared to high-income people with the disease; drug costs were found to be a main reason behind the gap.

While much of the recent discussion calling for a national pharmacare program has focused on bringing down overall drug costs, according to Morgan, it won’t help Canadians who can’t shoulder even small medication expenses out-of-pocket.

“Just getting the cost of drugs down alone will not help with the access problem,” he said. “For some patients, it’s a matter of life and death.”

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