Drug plan author dislikes 'catastrophic' notion

The phrase catastrophic drugs should not be used in determining a coverage plan for New Brunswickers, says the former health minister.

Coverage regardless of income level, medical needs, suggests former health minister

The phrase catastrophic drugs should not be used in determining a coverage plan for New Brunswickers, says the former health minister.

Dennis Furlong said the word catastrophic doesn't fit the context of what he calls "chemical therapeutic need" and recommends instead an insurance program that ensures everyone is covered, no matter what their income level or medical needs.

Furlong chaired a government committee that released a report titled An Insurance Plan for Prescription Drugs for Uninsured New Brunswickers on Tuesday in the legislature. The report was prepared as part of the province's poverty reduction strategy.

Furlong explains that a family may need $800 worth of drugs per month, which is common, But, if that family's income is only $1,600, that amount is extremely challenging.

Then, at the higher end, what people usually refer to as catastrophic — $30,000 or 40,000 per year — is equally challenging.

"There will be no barrier to access based on income and there will be no exposure to critical overwhelming costs of any particular drug," said Furlong.

"For a family, for instance, that may have two parents and two children that have $60,000 a year income and all of a sudden they're faced with $35,000 or $40,000 worth of drug costs, well, they will have a ceiling and will have to pay only a small, small portion of that."

Competitive with other plans

About 150,000 New Brunswickers have no coverage.

Furlong said the new plan will help disenfranchised people, the working poor and those who don't have an insurance program through their workplace, because it is graduated based on national income statistics

Premiums will be pro-rated depending on income

"Let's say the cut off is in the vicinity —  I'm using numbers now that are not real — but around $20,000 for two adults and one child, then the premium will probably be 100 per cent subsidized. Then as the income goes up to a certain level, they will pay more and more of the premium and the deductible and the co-pay," said Furlong.

"So it is an insurance, but inside that insurance, there's a social program protecting those who have marginal income and protecting those from exposure to critical, overwhelming costs."

He said the insurance program would be paid for by government, employers and consumers, based on their income levels.

The amount consumers will have to pay at the counter will be competitive with other drug plans.

The average drug costs for Canadians is $1,000 per year, which can be extrapolated to $150 million overall.

Furlong also hopes the report, which took about a year and a half to complete, will stop debate about what prescription drugs are covered in the province.

The initiative was originally a 2009 promise from the former Liberal government to set up a plan for uninsured New Brunswickers.

"I think the program is excellent. I give credit to the previous administration for starting it and this current administration for continuing the initiative," said Furlong.

New Brunswick and P.E.I. are the only provinces that do not have programs to cover the cost of expensive drugs for people with debilitating diseases or need the drugs to stay alive.