Public prescription drug plan coverage for antiretrovirals and the potential cost to people living with HIV in Canada: a descriptive study

CMAJ Open. 2018 Nov 27;6(4):E551-E560. doi: 10.9778/cmajo.20180058. Print Oct-Dec 2018.


Background: Antiretrovirals are expensive and people living with HIV may experience a range of financial burdens when accessing these medications. Our aim was to describe the policy of all Canadian public drug insurance programs for antiretroviral drugs and illustrated how these policies might affect patients' annual out-of-pocket expenditures.

Methods: In December 2017, we reviewed public drug programs offering antiretroviral coverage in Canada using government websites to summarize eligibility criteria. We estimated the annual out-of-pocket costs incurred by people living with HIV by applying the cost-sharing rules to 2 hypothetical cases, a single man and a married woman with a net household income of $39 000 and $80 000, respectively, receiving identical prescriptions in different jurisdictions.

Results: We observed substantial variation in the subsidy provided based mainly on geography, income and age. All 5 federal programs and 6 of 13 provincial and territorial jurisdictions offered universal coverage. In the remaining regions, patients spend up to several thousand dollars annually depending on income (Manitoba), age and income (Ontario, Saskatchewan) and age, income and drug costs (Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador). We found the greatest variation for our higher income case, with out-of-pocket expenses ranging from 0 to over 50% of the antiretroviral cost.

Interpretation: There is considerable inter- and intra-jurisdiction heterogeneity in the cost-sharing policies for antiretrovirals across Canada's public drug programs. Policy reforms that either eliminate or set national standards for copayments, deductibles or premiums would minimize variation and could reduce the risk of cost-associated non-adherence to HIV therapy.