Prince Edward Island is introducing a plan to assist people who are facing high costs for prescription drugs to treat devastating illnesses.

P.E.I. is one of only two provinces without such a plan, and the other — New Brunswick — has recently announced it has a plan coming. The Island's program will start Oct. 1.

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The new catastrophic drug program would be based on ability to pay, says Premier Robert Ghiz. (CBC)

 "The goal of the program is to protect any individual or family whose drug costs are consuming an unreasonable share of their income, be it from a combined cost of using drugs for several common diseases, or one extremely high cost drug for a less common or rare disease," said Premier Robert Ghiz in a news release.

"We need to help families facing financial hardship because of the high cost of prescription drugs, and this drug plan will put prescription coverage within everyone’s reach."

The program places no ceilings on drug costs or limits on participation. It will be based on what a family is spending on prescription drugs as compared to household income.

"This new program is not based on age or disease, but is designed instead to assist people based on the cost of their drugs and their ability to pay," said Health Minister Doug Currie.

The percentage of household income a family will have to spend before the new provincial program applies will be on a sliding scale.

  • Three per cent of an annual family income if that income is $0 - $20,000.
  • Five per cent of an annual family income if that income is $20,001 - $50,000.
  • Eight per cent of an annual family income if that income is $50,001 - $100,000.
  • 12 per cent of an annual family income if that income is $100,001.

So, for example, a family with an annual household income of $40,000 would have spending on prescription drugs capped at five per cent of their annual income. Costs exceeding $2,000 per year would be covered by the province.

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Lori Barker of the Canadian Cancer Society was thrilled by the news of the catastrophic drug coverage plan. (CBC)

The program will cover about 60 new drugs that are not in the current P.E.I. Pharmacare Formulary. The province estimates 6,000 Islanders will be in a position to take advantage of the new plan.

Charities and advocacy groups such as the Multiple Sclerosis Society and the Canadian Cancer Society have been lobbying for years for a catastrophic drug program. They were disappointed to see there was no money in the March budget for such a plan.

Those groups were thrilled with the news Friday. Lori Barker, executive director of the P.E.I. division of the Canadian Cancer Society said people can face bills of up to $60,000 a year if they get sick.

"I think of a gentleman who called for help this winter," said Barker.

"He was struggling to cover the cost just of heating his home. It wasn't even a matter of trying to find the money for the bills and his medications. he had no more money to pay for his medications or even to heat his home."

The national president of the Canadian Cancer Society was on P.E.I. in April to lobby the government for a program.