ns-lucentis

Lucentis is a drug injected to combat macular degeneration. ((CBC))

Nova Scotia's Minister of Health says the province cannot afford to cover the costs of a drug used to treat age-related vision loss.

Maureen MacDonald dismissed claims made in a newspaper advertisement urging the NDP to pay for Lucentis, a drug injected to combat macular degeneration.

The NDP once pushed the previous Conservative government to pay for Lucentis treatments, but on Thursday MacDonald repeated the argument that the party didn't realize the province's dire financial situation until it assumed power last summer.

MacDonald said her government will try to negotiate an agreement with pharmaceutical firms this year to reduce the overall cost of generic drugs and use those savings to fund costly drugs such as Lucentis.

"Nova Scotians, like all Canadians, pay much too high a cost for generic drugs and governments across this country have decided this is not acceptable. We're all grappling with ways to address that," she said.

In the meantime, however, she said she cannot find the money without cutting other services in the Department of Health.

It is estimated that funding Lucentis would cost the province $4.5 million in the first year. That cost would rise to $10 million in the third year of its inclusion in the formulary.

Patients appeal to politicians

A family delegation went to the legislature on Thursday to appeal to the province to cover the drug.

Supporters of the treatment said that paying for the drug would save money in the long run.

Betty Jennings, a member of the delegation who spoke on behalf of her 73-year-old mother, said not providing funding will cause other health problems, ranging from depression to an increased chance of falls.

"If you're asking where the money for this will come from, I think the money will come from all the medical treatments the government is not going to have to pay for if these people can see," she said.

Jennings said the series of injections is an essential service that her mother should receive under medicare.

Don Moors takes Lucentis and pays $2,000 for each treatment.

"My opthamologist told me I would be blind now if I hadn't come and hadn't been able to afford it," said the 92-year-old. "I think now I should be able to draw on the system and be comfortable in my declining days."

Macular degeneration is an age-related, degenerative disease of a small area at the centre of the retina. The growth of blood vessels into the retina can prevent sufferers from seeing fine details, and can lead to blindness.

In late April, Prince Edward Island announced that it would begin paying for the treatment, making Nova Scotia the only province that still does not.

With files from the Canadian Press.