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Put the Healthcare of Canadians First

20 October 2011

Ottawa -

After years of federal government inaction on the issue of access to high-cost cancer treatment drugs, the Canadian Cancer Society and Canadian Cancer Action Network will join with other NGOs and companies on October 20 to urge all governments to take action on this critical issue for the sake of Canadians and their families.

The 2004 health accord promised a national catastrophic drug program to ensure Canadians and their families receive the care they need, regardless of where they live or how much they earn. Progress on this important initiative stalled years ago and Canadians have been let down by one federal government after another.

“It is not acceptable that cancer patients should worry about how they are going to pay for the drugs they need,” explains Dan Demers, Director, Public Issues, Canadian Cancer Society. “Healthcare in Canada is grounded on the principle of universality. By not addressing this issue as promised in the 2004 health accord, the federal government puts this very principle at risk.”

With federal, territorial and provincial governments coming together in the months ahead to begin discussions of the next health accord, this issue takes on critical importance, advocates say.

“The health accord process cannot simply be governments talking to each other. They must work to make lives better for Canadians, and patients must have a voice in the process,” explains Marjorie Morrison, Executive Director of the Canadian Cancer Action Network.

In an attempt to move this issue forward with government in the months ahead, a network of advocates, NGOs and companies will meet tomorrow in Ottawa to develop a statement of principles and create working groups aimed at providing detailed policy recommendations for submission to governments in early 2012. These actions are supported by three key areas of concern, specifically:

  • Canadian families need action – 85% of Canadians would struggle to afford much-needed cancer drugs if they were diagnosed tomorrow. That’s 7.5 million families who potentially would struggle to make ends meet in order to buy the medication they need.
  • We cannot afford to fail – When Canadians cannot afford the drugs they need, they get sicker and need expensive hospital care. When drugs are affordable, Canadians are able to work and contribute to our economy. Approximately 19% of Canadians with chronic conditions do not take their medication because of cost, and another 22% take medications at a lower dose than prescribed. Patients who take their drugs as prescribed by their doctor boost Canada’s economic output and add to our economy.
  • Healthcare by postal code is not an option – Canadians expect their healthcare system to support them wherever they live, yet there remain disparities among provinces, and between public and private insurers. This leads to situations where a patient in one province has to pay out of pocket for a drug while a patient in another province does not. In addition, the same drugs are not available in all provinces. According to a poll conducted by the Canadian Cancer Society in 2010, more than 81 per cent of Canadians would support the federal government taking action – through federally funded programs – to reduce or eliminate the provincial differences in the availability and costs of cancer drugs.

About three-quarters of newer cancer drugs taken at home cost over $20,000. The average cost of a single course of treatment with newer cancer drugs is $65,000 – almost as high as the average annual income of Canadians.

“It remains clear that Canadians strongly support a national program to help them pay for drugs.” says Demers. “The upcoming health accord negotiations are a vital opportunity for government to finally address this issue in a meaningful way for the many Canadians facing cancer.”

About the Symposium

The symposium, entitled, SHARING RESPONSIBILITY FOR CANCER DRUG COSTS -- Envisioning a New Model of Coverage will be co-hosted by the Canadian Cancer Society, Canadian Cancer Action Network and the Public Policy Forum. It builds on the previous events which brought together representatives from across all sectors to gain a common understanding of the issues, while also developing specific strategies and solutions to address key gaps in cancer drug access. Delegates include representatives from governments, insurance and pharmaceutical companies, volunteer groups and doctors’ and nurses’ associations.

The Canadian Cancer Society is a national community-based organization of volunteers whose mission is the eradication of cancer and the enhancement of the quality of life of people living with cancer. When you want to know more about cancer, visit our website www.cancer.ca or call our toll-free, bilingual Cancer Information Service at 1 888 939-3333.

For more information, please contact:

Christine Harminc

Senior Manager, Communications & Media Relations

Canadian Cancer Society

Phone: 416 934-5340