Why doesn’t B.C. cover medications other provinces do? Group calls for changes

A group advocating for patients is asking why B.C. is behind other provinces on making sure residents have access to some prescription medications.

With a provincial election set for this year, the Gastrointestinal Society is urging the government to “make a public commitment to providing public coverage for all patients.”

According to GI Society President Gail Attara, B.C. rejected coverage of 31 medications between 2018 and 2022 — medications that are covered by most other provinces.

“For it to be 31 is outrageous,” Attara told CityNews Wednesday.

She explains the drugs cover “all different therapeutic areas,” including dermatitis, migraines, multiple sclerosis, and schizophrenia.

In Ontario and Alberta, she says the provinces only declined coverage for two or three of those same drugs in the same timeframe.

“The bottom line is that British Columbia isn’t covering medications that the rest of Canada is covering and it’s inequitable for patients who live in British Columbia,” she explained.

“Drugs in Canada go through a lengthy process to be approved by Health Canada and then they go through other various health technology assessments to be able to market those drugs in Canada. All these processes are national … So what’s happening is Canada gets together to approve and regulate and negotiate prices on drugs, and they come to agreements that these medications will be covered. But B.C. decides they’re just not going to do that even though the rest of Canada does.”

Attara says these are “unique drugs” that help Canadians deal with conditions like short bowel syndrome, which affects 32 kids in B.C. and prevents their bodies from absorbing enough nutrients.

“They can’t digest anything, some of these kids can’t even have a drop of water. They have to have everything through intravenous or a feeding program … They fail to thrive, they’re not nourished, and yet, if they get the medication, the medication helps their digestive tract grow, and so then they can absorb nutrition and be able to live a normal kind of life,” Attara explained.

“The B.C. government will not cover this medication, and it’s a Canadian invention — it’s used all over the world.”

The society is asking B.C. to come in line with other provinces and provide coverage for critical medications.

Attara adds doing so will even help with the health-care crisis, saying when British Columbians can treat their conditions with the right medications, they’re less likely to end up in hospital.

“To deny these medications is actually counterintuitive because it makes the costs in other parts of health care rise. If B.C. would just recognize the inequity that they’re doing here with drug coverage, it will actually save them money in the long run because the other services are very expensive,” she said.

CityNews has reached out to the Ministry of Health for comment.