Nearly 1 in 4 Canadians skipping pills, not renewing prescriptions due to cost: poll Wa Jobz

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Nearly one in four Canadians are struggling to pay for prescription medications and are skipping pills or foregoing refills, a new poll has found.

The poll, commissioned from Leger by Heart and Stroke and the Canadian Cancer Society between Jan. 24-29 found of the 2,048 adults surveyed, 22 per cent reported splitting pills, skipping doses or deciding not to fill or renew a prescription due to cost.

“I think that one of the challenges we have is that we have a universal health-care system, and yet we’re the only country with that universal health-care system that doesn’t have a pharmacare program,” Stuart Edmonds, executive vice-president of mission research and advocacy with the Canadian Cancer Society, said in an interview with Global News.

He said it was “shocking” that the polling found one in 10 Canadians with chronic conditions have ended up in the emergency room due to worsening health because they were unable to afford a prescription.

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When a person is diagnosed with cancer or a chronic disease, Edmonds said financial hardship is the “last thing” people want to deal with. He acknowledged that there are still health-care-related costs like travel, parking and even childcare when trying to attend appointments, but a prescription for medication shouldn’t be one of them.

It’s a story 59-year-old Heather Evans of Calgary knows too well.


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Since suffering two heart attacks when she was 39, she has been on various medications — taking 23 pills and two needles a day. But before getting her job with Goodlife Fitness in 2010, she struggled to afford medication. With the need to eat healthy food given her heart disease, the cost of food as a single mother was an added financial burden.


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“With a heart condition a lot of it is mental, you’re afraid, and you’ve got to kind of plan out things and so you go to sleep at night wondering what’s going to happen to you if you don’t have the medication,” she told Global News.

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It’s why Edmonds’ organization, as well as others like Heart and Stroke, want the federal government to pass pharmacare legislation and ensure it is equitable. However, he recognized it wouldn’t be “solved overnight,” and solutions would also come from work with provincial and territorial governments, key stakeholders and patient advocates to achieve equitable access.


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That legislation is one element the Liberals agreed to as part of the deal with the NDP to prop up the minority government. They had agreed to pass the Canada Pharmacare Act by the end of 2023, though the deadline was extended until March 1. On Tuesday, however, the NDP’s health critic pointed out the holdup is that the Liberals won’t “commit” to a single-payer system for pharmacare.

Cost was a big factor to those surveyed, with 20 per cent found not to have enough coverage, and a further 27 per cent finding it difficult to afford prescription costs.

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Twenty-eight per cent said they’ve had to make difficult choices in order to afford medications — some life-saving — by cutting back on groceries, delaying rent or a mortgage payment, or incurring debt. Among the cutbacks, the biggest was to groceries with 13 per cent doing so and another 11 per cent reducing spending on essential items.

“I just don’t think that anybody should have to make that decision between eating right, buying healthy food for your son or medication,” Evans said.

She said there were times it was “a wing and a prayer” as to whether she would be able to get medication. Sometimes she was able to get free medication samples from her doctor or checked with clinics to see if they had samples instead of paying $400 a prescription.

“If I don’t have it, my quality of life goes down and I can eventually die and I’m one of millions of people that are going through this,” she said.

Canadian Pharmacists Association (CPA) vice-president of public and professional affairs Joelle Walker said there’s always been gaps in coverage across the country, and they can vary province to province.

“As pharmacists across the country, they’re the ones who are managing people’s medications and coverage from a day-to-day basis and they’ve seen for years that sometimes it is a very difficult decision for a patient to decide which drugs they can afford,” she said.

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It’s why the CPA is another organization advocating for national pharmacare, though she added they want a mixed-payer system of public and private. She said this is because some private plans can provide more coverage for Canadians, but there is also the concern switching patients from one plan to another could cause added disruption.


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But Walker said having a pharmacare plan would help provide more consistent coverage.

“It would be great to see more consistency across the country in terms of what’s covered and what’s not,” she said.

A three-year study conducted by University of Toronto researcher Dr. Nav Persaud released in 2019 looked at how health-care spending would be impacted by eliminating out-of-pocket medication fees and found such spending was reduced by about $1,488 per person per year.

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That number was also noted in Heart and Stroke’s press release and Edmonds said the pharmacare bill has broader implications then just cutting prescription costs.

“I think it really is about how do we make sure that the best treatment is available to Canadians,” he said.

From Evans’ perspective, things need to change so Canadians, including those dealing with chronic conditions like herself don’t have to worry as much.

“One of the biggest things for me is pharmacare is just out of control. It’s a money maker and they’re making money while people are dying,” Evans said.

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