"TORONTO - An expert panel's advice that provinces and territories not cover the cost of two Multiple Sclerosis drugs creates a system of two-tiered care, MS advocates say.
They view the recommendation as leaving people with the disease, who don't have private drug insurance, unable to afford medication that could slow progression of the condition and ease the pain they suffer.
Late last month, the Common Drug Review advised that governments not put the MS pain medication Sativex on the list of medicines that provincial and territorial drug plans cover for eligible people. That follows a "do not list" recommendation issued in the spring for Tysabri, a drug that slows progression of the disease.
Those decisions put these drugs out of reach for many people with MS, an expert and a spokesperson for the MS Society argue.
"It's frustrating, because as an MS doctor, I would like my patients that are on public assistance to have the same access to MS treatments as patients with private drug plans," says Dr. Paul O'Connor, head of the MS clinic at Toronto's St. Michael's Hospital.
"And they most certainly do not."
Private insurance programs, which are generally provided as an employment benefit, may cover the costs of the medications for people with MS who have drug coverage. But the reality of MS is that the progressive and debilitating nature of the disease robs many people with it of the ability to hold down a job.
"We're talking about a population that has challenges staying in the workplace, has challenges in terms of maintaining their status on private insurance," says Jon Temme, vice-president of research for the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada.
"Because the nature of the disease is such that over time and with the disease progressing a significant number of people - we estimate up to 80 per cent - are unable to work full time."
"Anything that keeps (medication) options away from them is of concern to us."