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globe editorial

Linda Wilhelm suffers from Rheumatoid Arthritis and relies heavily on a drug that costs $1667.89 a dose, which lasts Linda a month. Her husband Kerry's job thankfully allows for 100% coverage of Linda's meds, but retirement or Kerry losing his job, would be crippling for the family.Cole Burston for The Globe and Mail

It is the one area in Canadian medicare where people can lose their homes to pay for health costs. Drug costs, not only for rare diseases but also for cancer or for chronic conditions such as arthritis, can be unaffordable for some Canadians, especially in parts of Atlantic Canada. New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island do not have catastrophic drug plans. Communities actually hold fundraisers to keep people in their homes. Across the country, the disparities are steep: co-payments for prescription drugs given outside hospitals range from 2 to 20 per cent (from people with family incomes above $98,000). In one Nova Scotia case, a cancer patient's share of her $38,700 worth of medications this year was $7,600. Such drugs are a necessity, not a luxury, and should not cause hardship.

To fill the gaps in catastrophic coverage across Canada - assuming that hardship begins when drugs consume more than 5 per cent of net family income - could cost $1.4-billion to $2.2-billion a year, shared by the federal and provincial governments. It's not cheap at a time of government deficits. But the federal parties need to make this part of the election conversation. It would be worth having an objective body such as the Health Council of Canada review the plans (or absence of plans) in each province and territory to determine how severe the shortfalls are, where they are, and how much it would cost to make sure Canadians are protected against disaster. Instead of aiming at a perfect plan for all, this country should set a minimum acceptable level, and ensure that all provinces meet it.