BC residents struggling with burden of prescription-drug costs

Hundreds of thousands are giving up basic necessities and using extra healthcare services to cope

BC residents struggling with burden of prescription-drug costs

The government’s recent moves to lower patented and generic drug prices have polarized opinion: critics warn of job losses and reduced access to certain medications, while advocates point out the reduced pressure on private and public drug plans. As the debate rages on, a new study suggests that the measures are sorely needed.

Research conducted by UBC, Simon Fraser University, McMaster University and UFT has found that Canadians are cutting down on basic needs in order to afford prescription drugs. According to the research, 730,000 people have trimmed down their food spending, while 238,000 have reduced their spending on heating.

The study also found differences across regions and demographics. “Across Canada we saw that five and a half per cent of people were unable to afford one or more prescriptions in the past year,” Michael Law, associate professor at UBC, told a local BC publication. “The comparable in BC was 8.1%.”

Younger people who mostly lacked coverage were least able to afford prescription drugs. Indigenous people were almost twice as likely as others to struggle with prescription drug costs. Meanwhile, women were twice as likely as men to report additional health system use because they couldn’t afford medication.

“Going back ten years, the numbers [relating to affordability challenges] were actually a bit higher,” Law said. “We think some of the moves the governments made in the past decade to lower brand names prescription drug prices and lower generic prices have had an impact on people’s ability to afford them.”

While some are still able to get their medicine by giving up other expenses, many Canadians are forced to go without, which has consequences on the healthcare system. Around 374,000 Canadians said they used extra healthcare services because they couldn’t afford their medication. That includes 300,000 who said they had to visit the doctor again and 93,000 saying they went to the emergency room.

The efforts to lower drug prices have yet to bear fruit, but in the meantime, the government is taking other steps to help. “The government has lowered deductibles on the public drug plan for households making under $45,000 a year, which I think will make a big difference in [people] being able to afford their prescription drugs.”