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Updated on Jul 02, 2015

Despite a federal healthcare structure that has become a point of fascination at times for our U.S. neighbours, it apparently isn’t all affordable surgery and reasonably priced pharmaceuticals for many Canadians. In fact, a recent study’s findings indicate that Canadians have never paid more out of pocket for their medical needs than many do today.

The Statistics Canada report surveying 12 years of Canadian households’ prescription drug, dental care and insurance premium costs raises provocative debates about just how secure the poorest Toronto households should feel under federal healthcare coverage limits. The families reporting Canada’s lowest incomes ranked the most statistically likely to end up spending over 5 per cent of their after-tax earnings toward health care – after inflation adjustment, a 63-per-cent increase from $600 to $1,000 between 1997 and 2009.

Compared to the 40 per cent of households paying more than 5 per cent out of pocket for health care within Canada’s bottom-two income brackets, medical and dental expenditures exceeded that level among only 14 per cent of Canada’s top earners.  “I think without a doubt we’re seeing less equity in the system,” study co-author and Centre for Health Services and Policy Research  at the University of British Columbia researcher Michael Law told CBC News.


Annual dental care expenditures averaged $380 and insurance premiums $650. Though prescription medications, at $320, ranked lowest of the three measured expenditure categories, drug costs raised Law’s greatest concern.

“Faster increases in out-of-pocket spending for lower-income households may have implications for access to health care,” the report says. “Lack of insurance and the burden of out-of-pocket expenditures have been associated with inequitable use of services such as dental care and prescription medications.”

After defining “direct expenditures” as excluding policy exclusions, deductibles, reimbursed payments and expenses exceeding coverage limits, the study surveying 98 per cent of all 10 provinces’ populations paints a picture of a federal healthcare system that is perhaps failing many households that it’s designed to protect. A similar study also published in April detailed Montreal researcher Robyn Tamblyn of McGill University’s assessment of patient adherence to their initial prescriptions.

Of almost 1,600 Quebec patients surveyed between 2006 and 2009, 31 percent didn’t fill their prescriptions until more than nine months receiving them. The most expensive medications were also the least adhered-to of all recommended. As Tamblyn sees it, Canada’s unhealthy poor can’t seem to tread water.

“For people who are poor, they’re more likely to have chronic conditions, they’re more likely to experience poorer health than people who are better off,” Tamblyn said. “The implications are that they’re going to skimp or not fill their prescriptions.”

In a way, it makes sense. When insurance expenditures are the highest average annual expenditure – defined for the purpose of this study as provincial hospital premiums, private health coverage, sold-separately dental plans, accident or disability insurance, and drug coverage – it makes sense that Canada’s lowest-earning households would widely find ways to successfully slash average medication expenditures first.

Despite the best intentions of the federal healthcare platform, Blue Umbrella Financial Services believes this is no way for Toronto’s poorest families to gain a leg up to improve their household health and quality of life. Just the same, if your out-of-pocket prescription expenditures are beyond your budget due to high insurance premiums, perhaps it’s time you contacted us.

We’re here to listen to your private health coverage needs through a free-of-charge initial consultation. Unlike when consumers test the health insurance market alone, patients win when Blue Umbrella Financial Services consultants and brokers work within a network of Toronto’s most trusted insurers to negotiate the coverage you need at rates you can afford. Please, contact us today.



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