A Saint John man presented a petition to the New Brunswick legislature Wednesday, calling on the government to provide catastophic drug coverage for everyone.

Terry Crowe's arthritis drugs cost $25,000 a year, but his drug plan only covers about $5,000.

"Things are pushing me right to the wall right now and I'm coming down to not being able to pay for any of this," said Crowe, a mature university student and small business owner.

'I think that all New Brunswickers would agree that as Canadians we should all be receiving the same health benefits, and right now we're not.' —Ellen Snider, Canadian Cancer Society, N.B.

He wants the provincial government to follow the lead of eight other provinces and introduce a universal catastrophic drug plan.

Crowe has more than 1,500 signatures and the support of the Canadian Cancer Society.

"I think that all New Brunswickers would agree that as Canadians we should all be receiving the same health benefits, and right now we're not," said Ellen Snider, the senior manager of public issues for the cancer society in New Brunswick.

Applies to everyone

The federal government gave money to all of the provinces in 2004 to help pay for catastrophic drugs plans, but New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island haven't followed through, said Snider, who went to Fredericton with Crowe to make his case.

"There are no guarantees that when the time comes, if heaven forbid you receive a diagnosis of a serious or chronic illness, and that you need a high-priced blockbuster drug, that you're going to be able to afford it.

"So, it's very important that we work now to help New Brunswickers understand that we are all at risk and it truly does apply to all of us."

Snider said the province's plans to expand drug coverage for people who have low incomes is a good first step. But any family in any income bracket could be at risk when one member gets a diagnosis and an annual drug bill in the tens of thousands of dollars.

Catastrophic drug programs come into effect when a drug costs more than three to five per cent of a person's income.

New Brunswick contributes the second lowest level of public funding of drug costs in Canada, about 37 per cent, according to the Canadian Cancer Society.

As many as 33 per cent of New Brunswickers have no private health care plan, it says. And even those who do have a private plan may not be covered for new or expensive drugs and treatments.