Almost a million Canadians cut food, heat spending to pay for drugs

Almost one million Canadians cut spending on necessities such as food and heating to afford prescription drugs in 2016, according to a report by researchers at the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, McMaster University and the University of Toronto.

The report, which used data from Statistics Canada’s 2016 Canadian community health survey, also found 1.69 million Canadians, or 8.2 per cent of those who received a prescription in 2016, didn’t fill the order, didn’t take the drug as directed or skipped doses because of cost considerations.

Read: B.C. to reduce prescription drug deductibles for low-income earners

Michael Law, lead author of the study, Canada research chair in access to medicines and associate professor at the University of British Columbia’s School of Population and Public Health, says people who report having drug coverage through their employers have the lowest rates of issues with affordability.

“What I think that indicates to employers is that they do have an important role to play in people that they employ and their families accessing medicines that they need, right?” says Law.

He also notes it’s important for employers to recognize that some plan members can’t afford the drugs prescribed to them. “The numbers are not large, but they are there. And people report not being able to afford even medicines that many of us would say are not that expensive. And so actions to change plans that modify the cost of drugs could have an impact on plan members.”

Read: Feds propose overhaul of drug pricing regulations

When people are unable to afford drugs, there’s an impact on other areas of Canada’s health-care system, according to the report, which noted an estimated 374,000 Canadians used extra services because they found their medication too expensive. More than 300,000 people reported visiting their doctor again and 93,000 went to the emergency room.

Young adults, low-income people and those without drug insurance were more likely to report affordability issues. The report also found Indigenous people were almost twice as likely to report issues with drug affordability and females were twice as likely as males to report using extra health-care services due to affordability.