P.E.I. passing the buck on drug coverage: family

A P.E.I. family seeking help to pay for a $7,000-a-month drug program is not going to get any from the provincial government.

A P.E.I. family seeking help to pay for a $7,000-a-month drug program is not going to get any from the provincial government.

'We're still fighting, this is the one thing we can do for our dad.'— Sheila MacMurdo

Colin Spencer was diagnosed with kidney cancer in August. He has a 13-centimetre tumour on his right kidney and needs a drug called Sutent to help shrink the tumour before it can be safely cut out.

Spencer does not have private health insurance to cover the $7,000-a-month cost of the drug, and he doesn't qualify for provincial drug coverage. He has cashed in his pension to pay for his first few prescriptions, and the family's Belfast home is now on the market.

Sheila MacMurdo, Spencer's daughter, and her siblings have been lobbying government for help, but MacMurdo said last Friday the province told the family it won't cover the drug.

"We're still fighting, this is the one thing we can do for our dad," she said.

"Myself and my brother, my sister, we're working this, and we're writing letters. And we have a lot of support from family and friends and we have been trying to raise money and we have a trust fund in place for dad. And there will be a benefit, likely in January."

Waiting for Ottawa

Provincial pharmacy director Faye Martin can't comment on specific cases, but said P.E.I. is urging the federal government to help cover the cost of expensive, catastrophic drugs.

Dawn Binns of the Canadian Cancer Society says P.E.I. should not wait for Ottawa. ((CBC))

P.E.I. spends less per capita than other provinces on drugs, and Martin said the province is looking at revamping its drug programs with or without Ottawa.

The Spencer family feels the province is passing the buck by waiting for the federal government to help. It does not know how long the Sutent treatment will have to go on before surgery is possible.

The P.E.I. division of the Canadian Cancer Society is also looking for the province to create its own catastrophic drug program.

Executive director Dawn Binns said close to 25 per cent of Islanders don't have private medical insurance and aren't covered under provincial drug programs. Binns said her organization often hears from people who can't afford the drugs they need.

"These are critically important treatments," she said.

"We're not talking, you know, about beneficial treatments that might help somebody. These are treatments that are just as important as cutting out the cancer with the surgical knife."

P.E.I. and New Brunswick are the only Canadian provinces that don't have their own catastrophic drug programs. Binns would like to see P.E.I. move ahead with its own program while it's waiting to hear whether Ottawa will get involved.