Better drug coverage needed for mental-health patients: report
Posted November 16, 2023 9:12 am.
An Edmonton mental-health advocate and author knows first-hand how difficult it can be for people living with mental illness to access new medication.
Leif Gregersen, who lives with schizoaffective disorder, was hospitalized in the early 2000s.
“For six months I wasn’t on medication that was working me, and it’s a very difficult situation to be in,” he said.
And he’s hardly alone. One-in-five Canadians experiences a mental illness, according to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
Gregersen says access and funding for medication is critical. He’s hoping a new report published this week shines a light on the shortfalls in the health system, particularly difficult access to newer drugs for people living with mental illness.
“There’s so many people out there who are suffering and needlessly because there are medications that could help them and they’re facing barriers,” he said.
The report – “System Broken: How Public Drug Coverage is Failing Canadians with Mental Illness” – was commissioned by the Mood Disorders Society of Canada.
The report found a high rate – 54 per cent across Canada – of “negative reimbursement recommendations” for mental illness meds compared to meds for other non-oncology disorders (17 per cent).
“What’s really striking to me though is that the percentage of mental-health drugs that is recommended to be reimbursed is less than other non-cancer drugs… showing a clear sort of stigma or discrimination,” said Atul Khulla, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Alberta.
Whether that’s happening subconsciously or not, Khullar says it’s concerning. He believes increased mental health awareness should come with better resources but feels that’s not the case. He says there’s room for federal and provincial governments to act.
“If I were to have a sit-down with the head of Alberta Health or (Danielle) Smith, I would say, ‘look this is costing the Alberta economy a significant amount,’” added Khullar, who is also the medical director at Northern Alberta Sleep Clinic.
The newly released report also suggests there are substantial delays for Health Canada to approve public reimbursement for new medications for mental illness – an average of two-and-a-half years.
It also showed the need for more equal access through public drug plans across Canada.
Gregersen hopes to see changes coming soon.
“I’m just hoping that the report is going to bring out more awareness of some of the lives that can be saved by better attitudes, by better funding, by putting more research dollars into finding new medications,” he said.