Great Plans for 2014 – Let’s Get All Cancer Drugs on an Equal Footing

Dear fellow patients, caregivers, family members and friends,

Welcome to 2014!  On behalf of all of us at Kidney Cancer Canada, I want to wish all of you the very best of health in the coming year. We’re hopeful about many new treatments in the pipeline, trials in progress, and new ways that we can support your needs as a community of people affected by kidney cancer.

We’re also optimistic that this is the year that we will see some dramatic changes in the way cancer drugs are funded – not just for kidney cancer, but for all cancers that require access to oral (prescription) medications. We’ve been working hard behind the scenes to understand why some provinces pay for IV and oral cancer drugs, and some provinces only pay fully for IV drugs. Oral cancer drugs are not covered in those provinces unless the patient is over 65 or on social assistance.

Who Pays in Your Province?

  • If you live in BC, AB, or SK, you know that your cancer drug is paid for by your province regardless of your age or income level, and regardless of whether it goes in your arm (IV) or in your mouth (oral).
  • If you live in MB, you’re probably still celebrating the 2012 announcement of the Home Cancer Drugs Program that ensures all reimbursed oral cancer drugs are fully reimbursed by the province regardless of age or income level, arm or mouth.
  • If you live in QC, funding is very different altogether. Thanks to some strong patient advocacy in Quebec, patients have better access to cancer medications today than ever before. While we need to stay vigilant and monitor access, patients are not currently paying out of pocket.
  • If you live in the northern territories, oral take home cancer medications are covered for the broad population, sometimes with a deductible of less than $500 per year.
  • However, if you live in ON, NS, NL, NB[i], or PEI, you know that we currently have two quite separate systems:
  1. One plan for IV drugs administered in a hospital (yes, the Canada Health Act says provinces must cover these), and
  2. A separate plan altogether for take-home prescription medications – even if those take home drugs are life-saving anti-cancer medications.

That’s right. Whether or not you are fully covered in these provinces, including Ontario, depends upon whether the drug comes as a liquid that goes in your vein or a tablet that goes in your mouth. For oral cancer medications that cost approximately $6,000 per month, essentially you need to have very generous private drug insurance OR qualify for the province’s plan. (If you have private drug insurance, hang on to it for as long as possible—including after retirement if you can!)

Each provincial “public drug plan” is different, but in Ontario for example, patients need to be eligible for OPDP (Ontario Public Drug Plan) coverage. In most cases this means that patients need to be 65 or older, on social assistance, or be hospitalized. If you’re 45, self-employed, and with little/no private insurance, you had better hope to stay healthy.

What?  That’s Discrimination!

You bet it is! It’s discrimination based upon the patient’s age. And based upon the patient’s type of cancer. And based upon a technical formulation (intravenous versus orally ingested). And it’s discrimination based upon province because the four Western provinces and our northern territories have found a way to treat cancer as cancer – regardless of the type of medication required. Cancer treatment is cancer treatment isn’t it?

We’ve heard from enough patients who know the hardship this “separation” of IV and oral cancer drugs is causing. Your neighbour with a different cancer treated with IV drugs might pay $0 out of pocket for his cancer drugs, but because you have kidney cancer (often needing oral cancer treatment), you have to scramble… Your private insurance might cover some, you might not have insurance, you might not qualify for OPDP, and you might be digging deep into your savings.

So What’s the Plan for 2014?

A small group of volunteers from Kidney Cancer Canada has been leading the charge on this issue. Now supported by a broad coalition of cancer patient groups from across Canada, we are meeting with decision-makers, politicians, bureaucrats, clinicians, and researchers to highlight the issue and propose solutions.

Our campaign is grassroots and will need as much public support as we can muster. As you can imagine, most people have no idea that they will face this issue until it affects their family directly. You can support us by sharing a campaign website (to be launched early this year), joining our social media campaign on Facebook and Twitter, and through ongoing opportunities to tell your story about the importance of access to cancer drugs and fairness for all Canadians.

With over 60% of new cancer drugs coming out as oral take-home tablets, we believe it’s time that all provincial governments took a second look at how they are funding cancer treatments.

We hope you will join us. Stay tuned as we release our report, our website, and spread the word that it’s time we gave all Canadian cancer patients an equal chance. No Canadian should need to face financial hardship as a result of paying for their approved cancer medication just because it’s a pill.

As always, your comments and input are most welcomed. If you would like to send them privately, please send an email to  And lastly, if you or someone in your family can help us in some way, please get in touch.

Happy (Healthy) New Year to all!

Deb Maskens
Director, Medical Relations
Kidney Cancer Canada

[i] New Brunswick has recently released a new catastrophic drug plan that should cover all New Brunswick residents. For more information, please see here.


3 thoughts on “Great Plans for 2014 – Let’s Get All Cancer Drugs on an Equal Footing

  1. So glad to hear about this! In BC, if I didn’t have the “cadillac” of extended health plans, we’d be in big trouble having to take axitinib!

    BC is dragging their feet on making a decision on whether this will be covered through the BCCA as a first, second or third line of treatment so potentially others who don’t have super EHC plans are not getting this med because of the cost.

    I think our goal has to be getting third and fourth line meds covered……especially where someone has a good long run on a first or second line med….who knows how long they can continue. Especially with the new immunotherapy meds having such great results and hopefully not too far out in the future for approval. Every option available should be tried! You never know which one will be the one that works until you try it!

  2. This was a very interesting article to read. I especially like the focus on making sure people have access to all potentially useful cancer drugs. It left me with a question, though. I’ve started coming across some articles that talk about using antifungal and antibacterial drugs for cancer treatments, and some of it sounds quite promising. I’m not quite sure yet why such drugs look to be so effective, but I’m exploring what the connections might be between cancer cells and those kinds of single-celled organisms. I was wondering if anyone associated with this site has done any looking around at the use of those kinds of drugs in treating cancer. I’m especially interested in how they might apply to treating late-stage cancer patients. It looks like a relatively new direction in treatment research, and I do believe strongly that new directions are badly needed! — Sherman Morrison

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s