Cuts to drug program could backfire for province, says pharmacist

A Stephenville pharmacist says changes to the provincial drug program could cost the government more in the long run if people neglect to buy items that were once free of charge.

Preventative medicine cuts mean short-term gains for long-term pains, says Trent White

Stephenville Pharmacist Trent White thinks cuts to the Newfoundland and Labrador provincial drug program could end up costing the government more in the long term, as people neglect to buy things they need to live a healthy life. (CBC)

A Stephenville pharmacist says money-saving changes to the provincial drug program could cost the government in the long run.

As of May, the program no longer covers over-the-counter medication, even if it is prescribed by a doctor. That includes vitamins, iron supplements, anti-nauseants and, in many cases, diabetic testing strips. The change is expected to save the government $5.5 million annually.

Pharmacist Trent White fears people will decide not to buy the products — something that could come back to haunt the healthcare system years down the road.

A lot of times you're talking about a lower income clientele who don't have a lot of money.- Trent White

"When you cut preventative medicine, like calcium or iron supplements and place restrictions on diabetes (strips), you might save some money in the short term, but there is a lot of data that shows in the long term it could cost the health care system a lot more," he told the Corner Brook Morning Show on Monday.

"You could be looking at potential hospitalizations, which in the end could end up costing the government more than the supplements themselves."

Hard choices

White said cuts to over-the-counter medicine go beyond products people buy for self-limiting conditions like a common cold, and that many of his customers depend on such medications to live normal, day-to-day lives.

Diabetic testing strips were once completely covered under the provincial drug program. Now, the rules around them are much stricter.

One major change involves tighter rules covering diabetic testing strips, even though White said the diabetes rate in the province is expected to rise by 38 per cent in the next decade.

He said many of his clients are on fixed incomes, so expecting them to pay for medications they had received for free puts them in a tough position, one he fears will result in people neglecting to buy what they need. 

"A lot of these patients are basically left with a choice of either buying these medications out of pocket or just foregoing the medications altogether," he said.

"A lot of times you're talking about a lower income clientele who don't have a lot of money for these types of things. I think quite often they are having to make some pretty hard choices."

With files from the Corner Brook Morning Show