OHIP+ changes leave students struggling to pay for medication

Post-secondary students like Kayla Ward are under pressure to find a way to pay for their medications now that the Ontario government has changed its youth prescription drug program, OHIP+.

Trent University student will have to double her workload to pay for endometriosis, depression meds

Kayla Ward's three prescription medicines cost her up to $1,000 monthly. She also takes supplements to go with her treatment. (Submitted by Kayla Ward)

Post-secondary students in Ontario are under pressure to find a way to pay for their medications now that the provincial government has changed its youth prescription drug program, OHIP+.

Trent University student Kayla Ward is one of them.

With a school plan that only covers a small part of the cost of her medicine, she's scrambling to pay for her endometriosis and depression drugs since the province made those with private insurance ineligible for OHIP+.

With over $1,000 in monthly drug costs, the cash-strapped student is looking at every option to keep up with her treatments. If she can't, Ward will have to start at the beginning. 

"I need [this medication] every 28 days, no matter what, or my treatment fails and my illness returns," Ward told CBC Toronto.

Ward's school plan covers $3,000 per year — or three months of drugs.

Ward bought her April prescriptions before the change and has some insurance coverage left to cover a couple of months. But even then, Ward said, that will only cover a small portion of what she needs for her graduating year come September.

She said she'll have to work overtime during the summer to save up.

"I'm not quite sure how that's going to mesh with my body, especially doing such an intensive treatment."

Student activist Jake Landau has heard many stories like Ward's.

Jake Landau is a second year U of T student. He's organized protests for Ontario's OSAP and education cuts with protest group March for Our Education. (Submitted by Jake Landau)

Because students are not allowed to opt out of their school plans without comparable private insurance, he said, some are considering dropping out of school to get OHIP+ again.

Landau, operations manager of the student protest group March For Our Education, said schools shouldn't have drug plans at all.

"Universities need to stop offering drug coverage," Landau told CBC Toronto. "It actively disqualifies students from higher quality drug coverage and increases their tuition fees at the same time."

Health Minister Christine Elliott responded to concerns that students with high drug costs have been ignored by the province.

"That can't happen," Elliott said when told some students might have to drop out.

"We want to make sure that [students] can receive the coverage that they need and still go to college and university," Elliott said at Queens Park.

If students are particularly affected by the amended program, she said, then the ministry can look at what improvements can be made. 

Some [students] will possibly die because of not being able to afford medications.- Kayla Ward, student

A spokesperson for Elliott's office noted in a follow-up email that students can also apply for the Trillium drug program to help with expensive medication.

But Landau said students shouldn't have to resort to that, saying the province should fix OHIP+ by requiring private insurance to be used first and then have it cover the remaining costs.

Ann-Majella McKelvie, president of the Trent Central Student Association, said her union is in talks with Trent University's insurance provider on how to navigate the change.

Trent University student Kayla Ward needs these medications and supplements for her endometriosis and pre-menstrual depression. (Submitted by Kayla Ward)

While students have aired their concerns to her, McKelvie suggested they instead be directed to the province.

"It's not the student unions that are going to be disadvantaging students, it's the government," McKelvie said.

As for Ward, she's more worried for those who are even worse off. She's seen the need for OHIP+ through her clinical placements and the potential impact if it's not fixed quickly.

"People with rare conditions that are either low class or middle class are either going to get really sick and some of them will possibly die because of not being able to afford medications."

With files from Mike Crawley