N.B. needs catastrophic-drug plan: patients

Patients and advocates in New Brunswick continue to call on the province to provide a catastrophic drug coverage plan.

New Brunswick announced Tuesday that it will set up a committee to look into providing drug insurance coverage by 2012 for people without any drug plans.

Patients and advocates say it is a step in the right direction, but many are still calling for the province to provide a catastrophic-drug coverage plan.

Such a plan would ensure that no one is denied access to necessary but costly drugs based on where they live or their ability to pay.

New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island are the only provinces that do not have such plans.

Kevin Connell, who has a rare form of cancer called multiple myeloma, said his life depends on the charity of a pharmaceutical company.

Connell credits a drug called Revlimid with keeping him alive. The drug costs about $10,000 a month, but the province only covers persons aged 65 or older, who meet certain conditions.

Connell's private medical plan does not cover the drug either. He gets the medication from the manufacturer, Celgene Canada, free every month.

Celgene general manager Kevin Leshuk said his company hopes New Brunswick makes catastrophic-drug coverage a priority.

The co-founder of a multiple myeloma support group said she has also been lobbying the province to cover Revlimid.

"It isn't just multiple myeloma that people are concerned about," said Carol Coleman. "It's all kinds of diseases that people are finding it difficult to get coverage for."

Coleman said it is unfair that taxpayers often fund drug research, but can't afford to benefit from the end product.

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.

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