Low-Income Seniors in Ontario Had Less Access to Newly Approved Drugs

There has always been a divide between higher and lower-income class individuals in terms of opportunity, as those with money tend to have more advantages in life. Based on a new study, it appears that wealthier seniors in Ontario were given access to newly approved drugs 1.5 times more often than poorer seniors.

Income Inequality — It Threatens the Health of Canadians

It’s been said time and time again, that nothing makes Canadians more sick than poverty. Decades of studies have reported that our health care actually accounts for less than a quarter of healthy outcomes. Although drug inequality brings light to the situation, it appears that housing, food security, employment, and overall income have the greatest impact on health.

Since income determines so many other factors, it is the most powerful influence when shaping other health determinants. Regardless of age, sex, race, or location, low-income Canadians are more likely to develop an illness in comparison to higher income Canadians.

Related: There’s a Health Gap Between the Richest and Poorest Canadians

Medication Inequality Among Seniors in Ontario

Based on a new study, it was found that when Health Canada approved a new blood thinner, wealthier seniors were prescribed the drug 1.5 times more often than lower income seniors in Ontario. Once dabigatran, marketed as Pradaxa was covered by the Ontario Drug Benefit Program, 18 months later, that inequality gap disappeared.

Researchers from both the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences and St. Michael’s Hospital found that there are socioeconomic barriers when aiming to access new drugs. Researchers believe this isn’t the only drug which has not been made available to those who couldn’t afford it.

The lead author of the study, Dr. Michelle Sholzberg stated, “if this is the case, further support is needed in order to create a national PharmaCare plan.” When comparing dabigatran to warfarin, the most commonly prescribed anticoagulant, used to reduce the risk of clotting and stroke — there are clear differences.

First, dabigatran costs approximately 20 times more than warfarin, but is actually more cost-effective. Patients who take dabigatran do not need to have their blood monitored as often and when taking this new blood thinner, individuals experienced fewer complications, including fewer issues in terms of serious bleeding.

Published in PLOS ONE, this study included 35,000 seniors in Ontario who were being treated for a common heart rhythm abnormality. Patients were grouped by neighbourhood income levels, adjusting for factors such as demographic variables and comorbid illnesses.

Although seniors were the core focus of this study, the results show that a publicly funded drug plan would be beneficial for all ages. The financial barriers that are seen among seniors most certainly exist for the younger population as well. In fact, this was well documented within a study, Low Earnings, Unfilled Prescriptions.

Within this study, it was stated that Canada is the only country who has a universal health care system which excludes prescription drugs. As mentioned above, income inequality gives way to a number of other contributing factors and in this case, it is access to certain prescription drugs.

Since approximately 10 percent of Canadians do not fill their prescriptions based on cost, this leads to greater health system expenses long-term. Chronic conditions lead to more hospital readmissions and in turn, lower income individuals continue to experience diminishing health.

Moving forward, income inequality needs to be addressed in order to meet the needs of Canadians, regardless of their age. St. Michael’s has stated that they will continue to work towards a Healthier, Wealthier, Smarter Ontario and have already achieved some of their goals, especially in terms of education and awareness.

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