Photo by Ana Maria Dacol/Creative Commons.

Photo by Ana Maria Dacol/Creative Commons.

High cost, limited coverage for asthma medicine a concern during COVID-19 pandemic

B.C. man says he skips puffs to save money, but others have it worse

Affordable access to asthma medication is a serious gap in Canada’s healthcare system with dangerous implications during the COVID-19 pandemic, says a B.C. man who suffers from the condition.

Abbotsford’s Fouad Markrout says, although he can afford the cost of his medications, many with asthma will be facing difficult decisions as the country faces a staggering numbers of lay-offs and applications for employment insurance. He says the PharmaCare should be fully covering the medications, at least temporarily.

RELATED: B.C. announces $5 billion financial relief for COVID-19 pandemic

“It’s expensive, it’s so expensive… If your asthma is not controlled, it’s a nightmare. From my experience, if I have a regular flu my life turns to hell… [And] I do use controllers, just imagine if somebody is not,” Markrout said. “Some nights, your face turns blue.”

People will respiratory illnesses are susceptible to complications from COVID-19 infections, yet the cost of asthma controllers have limited coverage under B.C.’s PharmaCare. Any lung infections can trigger an asthma attack, according to Asthma Canada.

Markrout said the cheapest asthma controller available for him costs $120, which is meant to last a month under his recommended dosage of two uses a day. He said asthma patients needs to have a special form signed by a physician, and spend $1,700 on asthma medications per year, before they are eligible for any PharmaCare coverage.

“For me, I’m cheaping out. I do one puff a day because I want it to last forever because I can’t handle $120 a month. I’m a single dad, I’ve got two kids, I pay child support,” he said. “Most people end up using their asthma reliever… “[That’s meant for] if you’re going to die from asthma, it’s going to help you temporarily for an hour or two.”

He’s not alone in his concerns, according to Dr. Menn Biagtan of the BC Lung Association. She said very few asthma medications are fully covered under the Medical Services Plan.

“[Markrout] has pointed out a very important issue, that most asthma patients do not have access,” Biagtan said. “Canadians like us should not be worrying about whether our medication – life-saving medications – will be covered. It should be.”

A poll conducted by Asthma Canada in 2019 shows the lack of coverage and high costs for asthma medications are significant barrier to the 3.8 million Canadians to suffer from it. Almost of third of those surveyed said their current drug coverage was not enough to keep their symptoms under control.

And Canadians living on lower incomes are hurt the most by these costs, according to the poll. For those surveyed making under $19,000 a year, 56 per cent said they rely on the provincial government for the costs (and 30 per cent of this group said they still pay out-of-pocket), 54 per cent said they have skipped filling asthma prescriptions because they couldn’t afford it, and only 11 per cent said their employer’s private plans covered their drug expenses.

A 2019 poll taken by Asthma Canada showing the percentage of people who have skipped filling their asthma prescription because of the cost, based on their income bracket. Asthma Canada.

The BC Lung Association is one of a number of organizations which join every year in Victoria to lobby members of parliament to get affordable medications reviewed, or at least, to be put on the agenda to be reviewed, according to Biagtan.

“It takes so much time for the government to really review all of these medications that should be covered under PharmaCare. Sometimes it take two years,” Biagtan said. “BC Lung Association is competing against other organizations, like the BC Cancer Agency, for the approval of cancer treatments versus asthma treatments.”

“A good example is Singulair. It’s another asthma medication that can be added into the treatment for those people [whose asthma] cannot be controlled with regular medication,” Biagtan said. “It took years before… it was approved by the Food and Drug Administration, [but] it hasn’t been approved for regular coverage.”

For many of these medications, there is not a generic option. After a pharmaceutical company develops a drug and has it approved for use, their drug patent can require 10 to 15 years before a generic brand can be developed, according to Biagtan.

“That is their way to recover the cost of developing that drug,” she said. “People have to have medications that are suited for their conditions, to control the symptoms, and not just what’s available or what’s covered by insurance.”

“How many hospitalizations and deaths could be prevented? How many school or work days are missed because asthma is not controlled?”

RELATED: Kids exposed to household cleaners as newborns more likely to get asthma: B.C. study


@portmoodypigeon
patrick.penner@abbynews.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Coronaviruspharmacare plan

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A man was issued a $230 fine after refusing to wear a mask inside a Central Saanich business. (Central Saanich Police Services/Twitter)
Man issued fine after refusing to mask up in Central Saanich business

$230 ticket issued under the COVID-19 Related Measures Act

A report by investigator Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond found “widespread systemic racism against Indigenous people” in a report released Monday.
Peninsula hospital one where ‘significant work underway’

Investigation finds ‘widespread systemic racism against Indigenous people’ in provincial health care

Victoria police issued tickets to two Victoria party hosts Saturday night, according to VicPD Chief Del Manak. (Unsplash)
Victoria partiers hid in closets, bedrooms in an attempt to avoid fines

Police gave out COVID-19 tickets to two separate parties

(Courtesy of West Shore RCMP)
Second driver facing impaired charges after View Royal traffic stop leads to loaded firearms

West Shore RCMP stop swerving motorist and Saanich woman who came to pick her up

Sig
Highway 14 down to one-lane near Jordan River

Traffic on Highway 14, six kilometres east of Jordan River, is reduced… Continue reading

A B.C. Ambulance Service paramedic wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 moves a stretcher outside an ambulance at Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, November 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. records deadliest weekend of COVID-19 pandemic with 46 deaths; more than 2,300 cases

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provides COVID-19 update

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

Christy Jordan-Fenton is the co-author of the book Fatty Legs, which has been mentioned amid the controversy of an Abbotsford school assignment on residential schools.
Fatty Legs co-author responds to Abbotsford class assignment on residential schools

Children’s book mentioned amid controversy at W. A. Fraser Middle School

Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka takes over as energy and mines critic for the B.C. Liberal opposition. Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick (right) moves from health critic to assistant deputy speaker. (Hansard TV)
B.C. Liberals pick critics to take on Horgan’s NDP majority

Interim leader Shirley Bond takes seniors, long-term care

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland listens to a question from a reporter on the phone during a news conference in Ottawa, Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Spending too little worse than spending too much, Freeland says as Canada’s deficit tops $381B

‘The risk of providing too little support now outweighs that of providing too much’

Left to right: A screenshot of NTC nurse navigator Lesley Cerney, FNHA regional mental health manager Georjeana Paterson and Island Health’s medical health officer Dr. Charmaine Enns addressing Ehattesaht community members from Ehatis reserve in a Facebook live update. (Ehattesaht First Nation/Facebook)
Medical team sent to Ehatis reserve near Zeballos to guide community through COVID outbreak

17 cases, eight recoveries and no hospitalizations as Island Health praises First Nation’s response

Still from a video surveillance camera of a man alleged to have stolen from several people at knife-point in Chilliwack (Rosedale) early on Nov. 28, 2020. (Facebook)
B.C. man defends his family against intruder, saves neighbour while wielding hockey stick

RCMP looking for footage that captures violent crime spree in Chilliwack

Harbour seals rest on log booms at Flavelle Mill in Port Hardy. With recent announcements the mill will be getting rid of the log booms, Dr. David Rosen sees an opportunity to study how the disappearance of this highly-frequented refuge for the seals will alter their behaviour in Burrard Inlet. (Photo supplied by David Rosen)
What the heck is going on with marine mamals in Vancouver waterways?

UBC researcher asks why they’re returning, and what role we’re playing

Jim Neufeld, 55, was last seen leaving his home in Penticton Jan. 21, 2009. (RCMP photo)
Human remains found off U.S. coast in 2009 identified as Penticton man

Jim Neufeld, 55, was last seen leaving his home in Penticton Jan. 21, 2009

Most Read