Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia sets up program to help pay for take-home cancer drugs

Nova Scotia has launched a program to help pay for high deductibles and co-payments for cancer patients who take medication for their illness outside of hospital settings.

Patient medication costs are now limited to 4% of a family’s net income under new program

The Nova Scotia government has set up a program that will cover some of the costs associated with cancer drugs taken at home. (Rick Bowmer/The Associated Press)

Nova Scotia has launched a program to help pay for high deductibles and co-payments for cancer patients who take medication for their illness outside of hospital settings.

Dr. Daniel Rayson, head of medical oncology at the QEII Health Sciences Centre in Halifax, says the program will take a great deal of strain off patients.

"It can be horrendous," he said about the burden of trying to find ways to pay for the drugs, which he said can cost a patient $5,000 per month or more.

Under the new program, patients are now limited to paying up to four per cent of their family's net income for medications.

"I think it will provide a lot of security in that there's a defined amount that will come out of pocket and no more. So that provides the ability to plan for costs," Rayson said.

The province announced the new program in the fall budget and said it would $846,000 this fiscal year.

High price tag for treatment

The provincial Health Department covers the cost of cancer treatments administered intravenously in a hospital setting. Patients who take oral medication at home were previously responsible for the costs.

Those without private insurance could apply to Nova Scotia's family pharmacare program. But either way, the deductible and co-payment ceilings for cancer drugs are high and represented a significant percentage of family income.

Derek Lesser of Yarmouth said his stepdaughter Julia Miller was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia in 2014. It's treatable, but the treatment comes with a $49,000 per year price tag.

Illness and financial burden

Lesser and his family lobbied the government for years to make a change, and patient advocacy groups and physicians also urged the province to provide coverage.

"I'm very happy with the way it's gone and I have a lot of faith that they are going to continue to invest in it. Hopefully, when they'll get to a point when you hear you have a cancer diagnosis you're not also within 10 minutes of hearing, you've got to now figure out how to pay for it," Lesser said Monday.

"Those two blows … are very traumatic. The one thing we can't eliminate is the cancer diagnosis but I think that as a province, we can eliminate the second stressor of the finances."

The fund is retroactive to April 1, 2017, so people with cancer prescriptions dating back to that time may be able to get reimbursed.