B.C. has eliminated Fair Pharmacare deductibles for families earning less than $30,000 and reduced deductibles for families earning between $30,000 and $45,000.
Low-income seniors and individuals will see co-payments eliminated, meaning their prescriptions will be fully covered by the plan, if they qualify, said Health Minister Adrian Dix.
Before the new rules kicked in Jan. 1, families that qualified for Fair Pharmacare would have to pay some of their prescription costs out of pocket before receiving coverage.
A family with an annual income of just $11,250 would have paid $200 before Pharmacare would begin to pay. Households with a net annual income between $15,000 and $30,000 were paying $300 to $600 out-of-pocket before coverage assistance began.
Ministry data show that people in income bands affected by the deductibles were skipping their prescriptions, possibly to pay for other living expenses, said Dix.
“No one should have to make the difficult decision between their family’s health and putting food on the table,” said Dix. “We know that for many working households, needed prescriptions were going unfilled too often because Fair PharmaCare deductibles were too high.”
A 2014 study by the Institute for Research on Public Policy found that seniors were particularly poorly served by income-based pharmacare coverage. B.C. switched from age-based coverage in 2003 to contain rising program costs.
Faced with paying the full price of prescriptions until the minimum threshold of $1,000, B.C. seniors have been less likely to fill prescriptions, said lead author Steve Morgan, director of the Centre for Heath Services and Policy Research at the University of B.C.
Several Canadian studies have found that British Columbians were twice as likely to report skipping medications for financial reasons (7.1 per cent, according to one study) compared seniors in Ontario, where their drug costs are minimal.
When people skip medications for chronic conditions, the costs tend to turn up in other parts of the health care system, such as more frequent hospitalization.
Fair Pharmacare serves about 240,000 families in B.C., including people in long-term residential care and income assistance clients. The average drug expenditure per patient is about $1,600 a year.
The provincial government has budgeted $105 million to pay for coverage improvements.