Pressure mounting for catastrophic drug plan

The provincial government is facing mounting pressure to live up to its promise for a catastrophic drug program.

Alward promised a catastrophic drug plan in the 2010 election

The provincial government is facing mounting pressure to live up to its promise for a catastrophic drug program.

New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island are the only provinces without such a program in place that covers drug costs that are deemed catastrophic.

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.

Now, a Saint John family's public struggle to pay for the cancer drug Avastin is drawing attention to the issue.

One dose of Avastin has already helped John Philippe, but it's come with some setbacks.

Philippe has a brain tumour known as Glioblastoma and doctors have told him that treatment with Avastin may extend his life.

Philippe was forced to put more than $10,000 for the drug on his credit card because his insurance doesn't cover it.

Nathalie Godbout, a family friend, says this wouldn't be an issue if Premier David Alward would keep his promise to implement a catastrophic drug program.  

"The buck stops with the premier. This was something he expressed passion about in his campaign to become the premier and he has a mandate from the electorate to deal with this and other issues, because families are suffering from the uncertainty," Godbout said.

The Progressive Conservative’s election platform said a catastrophic drug plan would cost $20 million, but since taking power, the Tories have focused on balancing the budget.

Finance Minister Blaine Higgs reported on Tuesday the provincial government is ahead of schedule on eliminating the deficit.

But Higgs was reluctant to talk about new government spending.

"There’s only two ways to balance the books. Through increased revenue or decreased expenses," Higgs said.

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

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

"We want to make sure that what we suggest to government to entertain actually works and people can use it," Furlong said.

"There's some evidence in the country that the programs put in place are not being accessed by the people because the costs and the participation role of the patient is too expensive."