New Brunswick Premier David Alward hopes to see a catastrophic drug program for the province within two years.

Last week, Health Minister Madeleine Dubé suggested such a program may have to wait until the end of the Tories' four-year mandate.

On Tuesday, Alward said providing help for people who require expensive medication will come sooner than that.

But first, he wants to deal with the needs of those who don't have drug insurance now. "That's over 200,000 New Brunswickers, 30 per cent of the population," he said.

"Then the second part to that will be bringing a catastrophic drug program forward for all New Brunswickers."

Catastrophic drug coverage ensures that no one is denied access to necessary, high-cost drugs based on where they live, or their ability to pay.

Some patients face annual bills in the five- to six-figure range. Catastrophic drug programs come into effect when a drug costs more than three to five per cent of a person's income.

The provincial budget contained no money to create a program to cover the cost of catastrophic drugs, despite the Tories promising such a program during last year's election campaign.

At a rally in Campbellton on Sept. 8, Alward had pledged universal coverage would be in place "within the year."

The Canadian Cancer Society says up to 11 per cent of New Brunswick households are at risk of facing catastrophic-drug costs, and as many as 33 per cent of New Brunswickers do not have a private health care plan.

Even those who do have a private plan may not be covered for new or expensive drugs and treatments.

New Brunswick and P.E.I. are the only provinces that do not have catastrophic drug programs in place.