You have cancer.

They are words no one ever wants to hear, and once the diagnosis has been made, patients want to start their treatment as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately, some are left wondering how they will pay for their medications. A new group called CanCertainty is pushing to change that.

Made up of more than 30 patient and advocacy groups, CanCertainty is calling for fair and equal access to cancer medications. Currently, the Maritime provinces fund medications that are delivered through an IV, but cancer drugs taken orally are not covered.  

“If you have to come into hospital and have a medication, we’ll fund it as per the Canada Health Act,” says Mary Lou Robertson, a medication resource specialist for Capital Health. “It states, as a hospital-based service, it should be provided, but anything you take outside the hospital is your responsibility.”

Robertson is also a CanCertainty representative. She says most Maritimers simply don’t have the means to pay for their cancer treatment out of pocket.

“The cost for these range from $3,000 a month up to $12,000 a month. There is paperwork to deal with, people have varying levels of help, sometimes nothing,” says Robertson.

In Nova Scotia, less than 40 per cent of residents have private drug coverage. The rest are uninsured, or rely on Pharmacare.

CanCertainty would like to see all cancer medications covered, regardless of delivery method.

“So, for some types of cancer, there is no IV option,” says Robertson. “You can only get an oral medication, so you’re inevitably facing insurance paperwork or having to link with the public drug coverage program, delays in treatment while we wait for paperwork to be processed and approved.”

Cancer medications in pill form are generally more convenient for patients and also put less strain on the health-care system, which is why other provinces have agreed to fund them.

“In ten years’ time, this is mostly how cancer is going to be treated. We need to figure something out,” says Robertson.

In 2000, Rodney Cole was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia, a cancer of the white blood cells. It is an illness he will likely have to manage with medication for the rest of his life and the cost of those medications can add up.

“To date, in my time that I’ve had CML, in the last…13 years, $750,000,” says Cole.

However, Cole says he is one of the lucky ones, as insurance through his employer covers most of his medications.

While he is fortunate to have drug coverage for now, Cole worries about what would happen if he lost those benefits.

“It’s tough, you know,” says Cole. “I am an average person. I work hard for what I do, but at the end of the day, that is not really something I could pay for.”

As a result, Cole is adding his voice to the growing movement calling for universal funding for cancer medications.