Three years and 13 days from the time his daughter Julia was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia, or CML, the Nova Scotia government announced funding in its provincial budget to assist cancer patients with the cost of take-home cancer medications.
The government has announced $846,000 to create a new take-home therapies cancer program to help patients pay for high drug deductibles and co-payments, with an additional $2 million per year over the next three years. The government will also work with its colleagues in the other Atlantic provinces on a longer-term solution.
“The money they are investing will mean that the most any Nova Scotian will pay for cancer medication taken at home will be four per cent of their net income,” says Lesser, which will remove a huge financial burden. “For someone in Julia's shoes and her career, it would probably be under $2,000 per year maximum instead of a potential $29,000.”
When Lesser’s daughter was diagnosed with cancer in 2014, it was, obviously, a shock. But also shocking to the family was that the government’s provincial health plan covered cancer treatment delivered intravenously in a hospital setting, such as chemotherapy or radiation, but didn’t cover take-home treatments like pills and injections. Lesser’s daughter has been doing fine throughout the years because of the drug she takes. With advancements in cancer treatment, an increasing number of effective cancer treatments can be taken at home by those with cancer.
Although the Nova Scotia Pharmacare program has provided financial help, assistance has been based on income levels. At certain income thresholds, deductibles and co-payments are a requirement. People with cancer, Lesser has said, shouldn’t have the added stress of wondering how (or even if) they can afford treatment.
On behalf of all cancer patients, he started lobbying hard for changes. Over the years he has written letters, had meetings with ministers and in the spring provincial election he ramped up awareness on social media. He said local MLAs Zach Churchill and Chris d’Entremont helped champion the cause.
The Western Nova Scotia Cancer Support Network Lesser started on Facebook – which is advocating for cancer radiation services to be available at the Yarmouth Regional Hospital – also made coverage of take-home cancer medications a cause to draw attention to.
Others have also pushed for coverage.
The Canadian Cancer Survivor Network has long pointed out that Canada’s western provinces, through their provincial public health plans, have treated hospital-administered cancer drugs and take-home drugs equally. CanCertainty, a coalition of around 35 cancer groups, has been lobbying the Nova Scotia government to do the same.
The group is now applauding what was contained in the provincial budget.
"This is a major breakthrough for patients and their families across the province," says Mary Lou Robertson, a consultant on drug treatment access and longtime supporter of the Cancertainty Coalition. "CanCertainty looks forward to working with the Ministry of Health and Wellness to ensure that all cancer patients in Nova Scotia can now get their prescribed cancer medications in a safe, timely and equitable way."
Although it’s been three years – Lesser’s involvement with the cause – he’s still pleased with the turnaround time by government to act on this, saying it shows that the government has been listening.
“It is finally a time to celebrate,” he says.