Catastrophic drug plan still coming, Alward confirms

Premier David Alward remains resolute in his commitment to set up a catastrophic drug program in the province but he is not committing to a timeframe.

Premier will not give a firm date for drug plan

Premier David Alward says he intends to fulfill a promise to implement a $20-million catastrophic drug plan 2:20

Premier David Alward remains resolute in his commitment to set up a catastrophic drug program in the province but he is not committing to a timeframe.

The premier promised to implement a $20-million catastrophic drug plan during the 2010 election campaign. But after two years in office, many citizens are still picking up the tab for crippling drug costs.

Alward told reporters on Thursday he would not offer a specific date of when the plan would be in place.

"I don't have a date. One thing I've learned when you put dates on something things tend to run on. What I can say though is we are actively involved in it, we know it is important to New Brunswickers," he said.

The Progressive Conservative Party’s commitment to a catastrophic drug plan was a key 2010 campaign promise.

Flanked by several candidates, including Health Minister Madeleine Dubé, on Sept. 8, 2010, Alward pointed out that New Brunswick was one of only two provinces that lacked a catastrophic drug plan.

"Our team believes it is time to bring in a catastrophic drug program for those struggling to pay for expensive drug treatments often required," he said.

And then on election night in his first interview after his victory speech, Alward said that promise would not get sidetracked by deficit reduction.

"We brought forward a strategy on how we will control spending of government and still be able to focus on highest priorities for New Brunswickers such as catastrophic drug coverage for families that are going through health crisis," he said on Sept. 27, 2010.

Lynn and John Philippe are struggling to pay the $10,600 bill for a cancer drug to treat his brain tumour. (CBC)

But those commitments have not helped people — such as John Philippe — who are fighting brain cancer.

Philippe and his wife, Lynn, are struggling to pay for the drug Avastin, which is not covered for brain tumours in New Brunswick. The New Brunswick government announced in 2009 that it would cover Avastin under the provincial drug program for people with metastatic colorectal cancer.

The Philippes estimate it is going to cost them $10,600 a month for treatment.

The family put the first payment on their credit card because Philippe’s drug insurance doesn't cover Avastin.

Lynn Philippe said the health minister’s message to her family was not very reassuring.

"She basically said that, ‘We're not going to fund Avastin at this time for your husband. Maybe you should look at going back to Toronto and good luck with that,’ and I mean that is devastating to hear," she said.

Dr. Dennis Furlong, the former provincial health minister, has been asked to propose how a catastrophic drug program would work.

He has said when his plan is ready it will be brought forward to the provincial government for review.