According to a new research team from The University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, McMaster University and The University of Toronto, almost a million Canadians have reduced their spending on basic necessities – like food and heat – in order to fill prescriptions.
They used data from the Statistics Canada Canadian Community Health Survey that estimated 730,000 Canadians opted to reduce expenditure on food, and 238,000 reduced how hot they heated their home in order to obtain prescription drugs.
“We knew lots of Canadians were having trouble paying for medication. Now we know they are trading off other everyday necessities in order to pay for prescription drugs,” says study lead author Michael Law, Canada Research Chair in Access to Medicines and associate professor in UBC’s school of population and public health.
The study found that an estimated 1.69 million Canadians, or 8.2 per cent of those who received a prescription in 2016, did not fill their prescription order or skipped doses due to the soaring prices of prescription medication.
“Despite Canada’s reputation of having a universal healthcare system, the fact that so many people cannot afford their medicines is a sign that people are falling through the cracks,” Law says.
These higher medical costs carry over into other aspects of healthcare – increase in doctor visits and use of hospital emergency rooms – simply because medication is not affordable. An estimated 374,000 Canadians reported using extra health-care services, such as going to a hospital emergency room or revisiting the doctor to cut down some of the costs.
Young adults, people with lower incomes, and those with no prescription drug insurance were more likely to report problems affording their medicines. These same characteristics also predicted additional healthcare usage and reduced spending on basic necessities. Indigenous people (those who self-identified as “Aboriginal” on the survey) were almost twice as likely to report affordability challenges, and females were twice as likely as males to report additional health system use due to medication costs.
“These results suggest better coverage for these groups would lead to fewer Canadians being unable to afford their medicines and likely improve their health as a result,” said Law.
The study suggested that it wasn’t even the highest priced drugs Canadians struggled to afford – it was even the cheaper ones – which proposes the need for Canada to consider revaluating how to provide people with potentially life-saving prescription drugs.