Family critical of N.L. prescription drug program

Published on March 17, 2012
Matthew Batten, 13, is shown with his insulin strips and liquid insulin at his Foxtrap home Wednesday evening. Matthew has Type 1 diabetes. His parents Kim and Steve have been trying for almost the past year and a half to have the Newfoundland and Labrador prescription drug plan cover a percentage of the costs associated with his diabetes

Matthew Batten, 13, learned he had Type 1 diabetes 17 months ago. His parents found it hard to pay for the prescription medication he needed to live, but they were better able to handle the costs with help from the Newfoundland and Labrador Prescription Drug Program (NLPDP).

But after April 30, the Battens will no longer receive assistance according to a letter they recently received stating they do not qualify for coverage.

Kim Batten, Matthew's mother, said the province should have a specialized drug plan in place for diabetic children, particularly given the disease's prevalence in the province.

"It's a terrible system," she said. "This is for my child - without insulin, he doesn't live."

Matthew, who was equipped with an insulin pump in January, needs to check his sugar levels eight to 10 times each day. Test strips cost $1 each. A vial of insulin costs $35 and lasts one week. He also takes a medication for anxiety costing $60 per month.

According to Kim Batten, the cost of his prescriptions from Jan. 11, 2011 to Dec. 19, 2011 was $2,961.79. The Battens also have a nine-year-old son named Stephen.

When Matthew was first diagnosed, Kim Batten said she knew immediately they would have trouble paying for his prescriptions. Steve Batten said staff at the Janeway Children's Hospital told him diabetics are almost guaranteed assistance at some level through the NLPDP.

"Of course, the door shut in our face," he said.

Recipients must apply every six months for the program.

The Battens took their case to Conception Bay South MHA Terry French, and were subsequently able to receive assistance for 43 per cent of the costs associated with Matthew's prescriptions.

"Which is a help," said Steve Batten. "We're not looking for handouts. We're looking for that little bit extra. ... We're only a regular family. We're not making big money. We're just getting by."

Kim Batten is a daycare worker, while Steve Batten is a mechanic. They do not have health insurance.

Aside from the burden of paying for Matthew's prescriptions, Steve Batten said it is costly to provide him with the healthy diet he requires as a diabetic.

Under the NLPDP Assurance Plan, individuals and families with a net income of $40,000 to $74,999 will pay a maximum of 7.5 per cent for eligible prescription drugs. The Battens net income falls in this range, and they say the percentage cap should be lowered.

Kim Batten said she has contacted French, local Member of Parliament Scott Andrews, Minister of Health and Community Services Susan Sullivan and NDP leader Lorraine Michael.

Changes were made to net income thresholds for the Access Plan in the 2010 budget to respond to an increase in the minimum wage, which otherwise may have resulted in some residents becoming ineligible for the program.

According to the province, it invests approximately $148 million annually in the NLPDP.

A spokeswoman for Health and Community Services said the budget for the NLPDP is based on provincial demographics and the expected incidence of illnesses and medicals conditions. She said the thresholds are applied to all applicants, and if an applicant does not agree with a decision, it can file an appeal.

The spokeswoman said access to health insurance does not factor into an applicant's eligibility, adding the NLPDP is the only public option for subsidizing the cost of prescription drugs.

arobinson@thetelegram.com Twitter: TeleAndrew