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One in 12 older Canadians skip prescriptions due to cost

Pharmacist Denis Boissinot checks a bottle on a shelf at his pharmacy on March 8, 2012 in Quebec City. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot)

One in 12 Canadians over the age of 55 are avoiding filling prescriptions because they can’t afford to, according to new research out of the University of British Columbia.

The study, authored by Steve Morgan and Augustine Lee from UBC’s school of population and public health, looked at data from the 2014 Commonwealth Fund International Health Policy Survey of Older Adults, which included participants from 11 high-income countries: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Among those nations, Canada had the second-highest rate of older adults who skipped out prescriptions because of cost, at 8.3 per cent.

Only older adults in the U.S. had a higher rate at 16.8 per cent.

France led the pack at 1.6 per cent.

In an analysis of survey responses from all 11 countries, the researchers found that Canada had the second-highest prevalence of skipped prescriptions due to cost at 8.3 per cent. (Sachi Wickramasinghe / The University of British Columbia)

Canada is also the only developed country with a universal health program that lacks prescription drug coverage.

While Canada may be saving in the short-term, Morgan said down the road the consequences of adults who don’t take necessary prescriptions has a heavier toll on the health care system.

“When patients stop filling their prescriptions, their conditions get worse and they often end up in hospital requiring more care which in the long run costs us more money,” said Morgan said in a press release.

A separate analysis of the survey’s findings found that Canadians between the ages of 55 and 64 face the “greatest barriers,” as one in eight in that bracket reported skipping their prescription because of cost.

Those who were 65 and older faced less strain, with just one in 20 reporting that they did get their script filled, as they qualify for comprehensive public coverage in many provinces.

Morgan said there are significant gaps in the patchwork drug coverage offered across Canada.

As previously mentioned, public drug plans in Canada are only offered to select groups such as people over 65 and social assistance recipients.

Some receive private insurance through their workplace, while others don’t have coverage at all.

This patchwork solution may also be leaving many Canadians to struggle with the cost of their prescriptions.

The survey found that Canadians without coverage were twice as likely to report skipping out on filling their scripts because they couldn’t afford them.

It also indicated that those in low-income brackets were three times as likely to struggle to fill their scripts than their wealthy counterparts.

“Our problem hasn’t gone away,” said Morgan, noting that prescription drug affordability remains an issue in Canada.

“Financial barriers to prescription drugs are still high, both in absolute terms and relative to our peer countries.”

The paper recommends that Canada could improve access to medications by implementing universal coverage.

There have been growing calls for universal pharmacare in Canada.

In December, a citizens’ panel recommended that Canada adopt a national, publicly funded program to work in harmony with its universal health care system.

A 2015 study, also undertaken by Morgan, found that universal prescription drug coverage could save Canada $7.3 billion a year. The findings also indicated that private citizens and corporations could save more than $8 billion, while the system would only cost the government $1 billion to implement.

A coalition of medical practitioner also lobbied for a national pharmacare strategy last year.

A 2015 poll found support for the proposal among 91 per cent of its participants.