Coalition advocates for fully funded cancer treatment

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Andrew Robinson
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A coalition of organizations is calling on several provincial governments — including the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador — to fully fund all cancer treatments.

While some Canadian provinces such as Alberta and British Columbia cover the full cost of oral anti-cancer treatments, Newfoundland and Labrador is among those that do not.

“I think it’s just a matter of fairness to be equitable — that if we’re going to pay for drugs for cancer, we should pay for drugs for cancer, and it shouldn’t make a difference whether it’s oral or whether it’s intravenous,” said Ross Klein, board chairman of Kidney Cancer Canada.

Klein, who is also a professor of social work at Memorial University, was diagnosed with early stage kidney cancer in November 2010 and is now cancer-free thanks to a surgery that removed almost 40 per cent of his kidney. Kidney cancer is otherwise treated almost exclusively through oral therapies.

The cost of treatment can create financial challenges for anyone without insurance. Newfoundland and Labrador helps individuals and families (depending on their income level) to keep eligible drug costs capped at anywhere from five to 10 per cent of their net family income. There is also a specialized plan for seniors.

The Newfoundland and Labrador Prescription Drug Program is available to individuals and families with a net income of up to $150,000 and is used as a payer of last resort when combined with private and employer-sponsored insurance packages.

The CanCertainty coalition argues cancer patients should have equal access to treatments regardless of how they are administered and a person’s age or income level.

According to the Department of Health and Community Services, the provincial prescription drug program has approximately 1,200 beneficiaries being treated for cancer. Government will spend $5.7 million in 2013-14 on oral cancer medications.

“We’re probably better off than people in Ontario in that there is a government plan that provides some subsidy, but it’s based on income,” said Klein.

Klein added full funding for cancer treatments should be viewed as a “moral responsibility” for government.

“It’s just that moral kind of ethical attitude that somehow by ... the accident of the illness you have, you’re treated differently. It isn’t that if I’m in a hospital and I get intravenous treatment, it isn’t that intravenous treatment is any cheaper than the oral treatment. In fact, the intravenous treatment because I’ve got to be in hospital probably costs that much more, because I’m occupying a hospital bed and I’ve got the hospital staff having to take care of me.”

According to a recent a recent report prepared by the Cameron Institute —  a public policy think tank — 60 per cent of all new cancer treatments being developed are oral drugs.

 

arobinson@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @TeleAndrew

 

— Weblink: http://www.CanCertaintyForAll.ca

Organizations: CanCertainty coalition, Department of Health and Community, Cameron Institute

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario

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