Katrina Cepovski was stunned when a pharmacist told her the price tag of her prescription.
The Toronto post-secondary student’s birth control – covered under OHIP+ until earlier this week – will now cost her $25 per month.
“Any sort of extra payment in a student’s budget is significant,” Cepovski said.
Ontarians under 25 with private drug plans are no longer eligible for free prescriptions under OHIP+ — even if their private coverage isn’t as extensive as the public one.
That means Cepovski, who currently pays for a plan through Humber College, has an added monthly expense.
The former Liberal government rolled out OHIP+, a pharmacare plan that covers a list of 4,400 medications for people under 25, at the start of 2018. The Progressive Conservatives announced initial changes to limit its coverage six months after it came into effect.
The latest changes mean youth and their parents with private plans will have to pay out of pocket if their plan doesn’t cover certain drugs or they hit its maximum.
For full-time Ryerson students — all of whom are required to have coverage outside of OHIP — drug coverage is now limited to the student union Green Shield Canada plan or their personal or parental plan.
Danyaal Raza, chair of Canadian Doctors for Medicare, called the changes concerning.
Raza said that although the Liberals’ OHIP+ program wasn’t going to close the pharmacare gap in the province, it was “a baby step in the right direction.”
One in 10 people can’t afford to fill their prescriptions in Canada, the only industrialized country with universal medicare that doesn’t provide pharmacare.
“It’s a huge issue, it has a huge impact on the health-care system and, of course, patient health itself,” he said.
A family doctor and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, Raza said Canadians are forced to cut back on expenses such as hydro and food or skip or ration their prescription drugs as a result.
Cepovski said her monthly birth control tab is equivalent to the price of two meals, adding that she worries youth patients might have to make sacrifices to pay for important medications – including mental health-related prescriptions.
Sexual health workers have also raised concerns about young people being forced into uncomfortable situations under the new plan since women with private health-care insurance won’t have access to free birth control under OHIP+.
Raza said young people could be forced to disclose personal information to their parents or go without treatment.
Young patients face additional barriers, he added, since they are entering a precarious job market and gig economy where good benefit packages are becoming increasingly rare.
With the province dialing back coverage, Raza wants the federal government to take action.
The Liberals committed $35 million to creating a national drug agency in the 2019 federal budget announced last month. But they didn’t explicitly commit to creating a country-wide pharmacare plan in the future.
The Canadian Drug Agency lays the groundwork with roles of assessing the effectiveness of new drugs, negotiating drug prices on behalf of Canada’s drug plans and recommending affordable drugs for a potential plan.
Meanwhile, on the same day Ontario cut back OHIP+, the NDP unveiled a universal pharmacare plan. The party promises it will implement a universal and comprehensive national pharmacare program set to begin in 2020 if Canadians vote orange in the fall election.