Advisory Committee report recommends guidelines and options.
by Jody Dallaire
Overall, 150,000 New Brunswickers (15 percent of full-time workers and 20 percent of part-time workers) do not have prescription drug insurance. Now the NB Advisory Committee on Health Benefits has recommended that the province provide prescription drug insurance, on the same basis as other kinds of insurance. Everyone in the province would benefit, not just those 150,000.
Dr Dennis Furlong heads up the Advisory Committee. As he said, we transport people who have a heart attack by air to a first-class cardiac unit, perform expensive tests and surgery while they are in hospital for days and weeks — and then discharge them with prescriptions they can't afford to fill.
And then, when the problem recurs, we’ll do it all over again. Many chronic conditions — asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure – can be controlled by medication, but flare up dangerously if the patient cannot afford to buy the drugs they need. Think of the savings to the health care system if everyone were able to have their prescribed medications!
Some 20 percent of New Brunswickers don’t have prescription drug insurance. Some are healthy enough not to need medication. However, many are struggling to pay for prescriptions or doing without or cutting back on their prescribed medicine because of the cost. Soon they will be able to pay one premium which will give everyone protection, peace of mind, and medication when needed.
Co-payments can be a problem even for New Brunswickers who do have prescription drug insurance, because many drugs are extremely expensive. “For example, it is not unusual for a private plan member to pay 20 percent of the prescription drug costs at the pharmacy at time of purchase,” says the Committee’s report. “For plans that do not have a maximum contribution amount, a drug costing $30,000 per year can amount to $6,000 payable at the pharmacy by the plan member.”
The Committee also reported that the uninsured population in New Brunswick looks quite a lot like the insured, in terms of employment, health status and age, but they have lower incomes and education. About a quarter of the uninsured are 60 and over, and another 20 percent are under 30.
Two-thirds of those who are uninsured are employed, either for themselves, or for employers that do not offer insurance plans. Nor, apparently, do they have spouses with insurance coverage.
The spousal factor is important — a worker’s insurance may depend on their spouse, especially for women, who are much more often part-time workers than men. While 88 percent of New Brunswick women who work part time report being covered by a drug insurance plan, many of those are likely covered by their spouse’s plan.
Some New Brunswickers who don’t have prescription drug insurance have a reasonably good income. A third of them (about 50,000) have family incomes above $50,000. But many uninsured will need some level of public subsidy. Possibly 2 out of 3 families currently without coverage may qualify for some subsidy, depending on the option adopted by the government.
“The government will move swiftly to consider the options in the report,” Health Minister Hugh Flemming said when he received the report, “and [we] will move ahead with implementing an insurance plan as quickly as possible.”
“The options presented to the government will give everyone equal access to the medications they need to be healthy,” said Dennis Furlong, “[They] will help people better manage chronic disease; and will allow people on social assistance to continue to have drug coverage after they join the workforce.”