Cancer diagnosis can lead to financial crisis for some

July 17, 2014

Category: Critical Illness Insurance, Future Planning

By: Jennifer Barry Special to the Star Published on Wed Jul 02 2014

A cancer diagnosis isn’t just an emotional shock, it can send sufferers into a financial tailspin resulting in debt, bankruptcy and even a lifetime on social assistance, according to the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS).

Research by the CCS has shown that nine out of 10 Canadian families touched by the disease report some form of financial challenge as incomes decline and household costs rise.

It’s an issue that’s all the more acute in Ontario, which lags behind Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia — all of which have comprehensive provincial programs providing full coverage for eligible cancer drugs taken at home.

While Ontario covers the cost of cancer drugs if they are administered in hospital, once a patient goes home, that support ends.

Kelly Gorman, senior manager of public issues at the CCS, says it’s costing some people in recovery thousands of dollars.

“If your drug is intravenous and administered in a hospital or clinic then it’s covered, but if it’s at home, things change,” she says.

“We were working with a family whose child had cancer, and one of the medications had to be taken at home. It was a couple of thousand dollars for the course of treatment,” she said.

“People are trying to cope with the diagnosis, wondering how they are going to deal with it and fight this disease,” she says, “to learn there might be a might be financial component to worry about is anxiety at a scary and stressful time.”

There are a few ways people in Ontario can recoup costs, through things such as the Ontario Drug Benefit, work programs, or funding through the Trillium Drug Program, for example, but many still fall through the cracks.

Even with benefits or funding programs, there are a lot of administrative steps before they can access the medication, Gorman says.

Often, people have to take a leave of absence from work, creating an additional financial burden. Some turn to fundraising to help fund their treatment.

Research suggests it would cost $93 million annually for Ontario to pick up the tab.

The CCS and other groups are continuously working to raising awareness, and lobby Ontario politicians to follow the lead of other provinces and fund all cancer drugs.

“The government is well aware of it,” Gorman says.

“We hope when they are looking at Ontario issues, and how they will improve outcomes and quality of life, they will consider this.”