06 December 2006

NL government breaking medicare principles

600 MS patients cannot access medically-necessary drug treatments due to lack of government support

December 6, 2006, St. John's, NL -- The Multiple Sclerosis Society took its campaign for universal drug coverage to the House of Assembly today to highlight that Newfoundland and Labrador's lack of drug coverage for MS patients is inconsistent with the principles of medicare.

Newfoundland and Labrador is the only province in Canada that does not provide universal coverage of MS drugs. While the provincial government covers the drug costs of people on social assistance, seniors and those in long-term care, the lack of universal coverage has left over 600 Newfoundlanders without access to the drugs they need to manage their disease and slow its progression. Many others with MS have been forced to go on social assistance in order to qualify for drug coverage.

"Tommy Douglas, the father of medicare, used to say that no one should have to lose their farm because of an illness," said Sean Kirby, vice chair of the MS SociAtlantictlantic division board. "MS patients in this province should not have to quit their jobs, give up their life savings and raise their families in poverty because of their illness. Nor should they have to do without medically-necessary drugs that are available to patients in every other province. The government's refusal to provide drug coverage to all MS patients is inconsistent with the fundamental principles of our health system."

"The sad truth is that MS patients are better off in every other province in the country than they are here," said Kirby. "Patients in Newfoundland and Labrador should get the same care as other Canadians."

Margaret Rideout, a fisherwoman from Burin Peninsula who was diagnosed with MS three years ago, is one of many MS patients in Newfoundland and Labrador who have chosen to continue working to help support their families instead of going on social assistance to get government drug coverage. Ms. Rideout, who is married and has a four year old daughter, cannot afford to pay the cost of the drugs ($17,000-$27,000 per year), so she simply does without. The provincial government would pay for her drugs if she quit work and went on social assistance.

"Someone with MS basically has to be poverty-stricken to get any help from the provincial government," said Ms. Rideout. "Not only would I have to quit work and go on social assistance to get drug coverage, my husband and I would have to get rid of our investments and never save anything for retirement to meet the government's financial rules. Getting government drug coverage would mean committing my family to a life of poverty forever."

"I want to work and set a good example for my daughter. I want to contribute to the province and not be a drain on it," said Ms. Rideout. "It is wrong that the government is forcing me to choose between supporting my family and getting access to the drug treatments I need."

The lack of universal drug coverage also has terrible impacts on the provincial government's finances, the economy and communities. When MS patients cannot take their drugs, their health deteriorates and government health care costs increase as a result. When MS patients are forced to go on social assistance to get drug coverage, the provincial government ends up paying their drug costs plus social assistance payments and other related costs. In other words, it would be cheaper for the government to pay the drug costs for all MS patients than it is force them into poverty in order to meet government drug program rules.

Most MS patients are diagnosed when they are relatively young - between the ages of 15 and 40. With universal drug coverage, most would be able to contribute to the province, the economy and their communities for their entire lifetimes. Without universal drug coverage, they are forced into a life of poverty and deteriorating health.

The MS Society is urging the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to establish in its 2007 budget an MS-specific drug program that ensures every person with MS receives the drug treatments they need to manage their disease.


Sarah Cowan
Manager of Communications and Government Relations
Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada (Atlantic Division)
Cell: (902) 981-4996

Sean Kirby
Vice Chair of the Board
Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada (Atlantic Division)
Cell: (902) 222-6930