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'I'm sure it's cost and cost alone': B.C. only province in Canada that won't cover multiple sclerosis drug

Cranbook teacher Andrea Rollheiser was 32 years old when she first had symptoms of optic neuritis. But it was three years before she was officially diagnosed with relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis, or RRMS.

“The diagnosis itself definitely explained a lot of symptoms and things I have felt over the years,” said Rollheiser, who is now 42-years-old and on medical leave from her teaching position.

After a serious relapse impacted her mobility and landed her in hospital last year, she learned about a drug that could lessen the number and severity of future relapses.

“So that drug is Ocrevus. And Ocrevus is not approved in B.C. for use in patients with RRMS. It is approved for patients with primary progressive MS. That is not me,” said Rollheiser.

Every other province and territory covers Ocrevus, which has been approved by Health Canada and gone through two large-scale clinical trials for relapsing remitting MS patients. But B.C. pharmacare won’t cover it.

“They replace it with one of these generic medications which has actually never been tested in proper control studies for multiple sclerosis,” said Dr. Freedman, director of the MS research unit at Ottawa Hospital. “I’m sure it’s cost and cost alone that is driving B.C. Pharmacare to make this decision.”

In a statement, the B.C. health ministry said: “The national Common Drug Review evaluates a drug based on its therapeutic value and cost effectiveness and makes recommendations to provincial drug plans. B.C.’s Drug Benefit Council then takes that recommendation into consideration when reviewing the drug and makes its own recommendation to the ministry.”

Rollheiser said the decision not to cover Ocrevus could have dire consequences for British Columbians like her.

“I was told my next relapse will be most likely severe again. That there needs to be intervention, there needs to be drug intervention,” she said.

Her private insurance won’t cover the twice a year Ocrevus infusions, and like most MS patients, she can’t afford the out-of-pocket cost of $33,000.

“And it’s frustrating to know that just a province over, I could be covered and be on this drug,” said Rollheiser.

Dr. Freedman believes every RRMS patient in Canada should have access to the Ocrevus.

“My colleagues have exhausted themselves writing to government and pleading for the use of the approved therapies, so I think it’s got to come from the grass roots, it’s got to be the people,” Freedman said.

That’s why Rollheiser is speaking out, hoping her story convinces the B.C. government to take another look at Ocrevus.

“These drugs are expensive, however every other province and territory has approved them for use with their MS patients,” she said. “It is very hard to think this is 2023, that this is Canada, and that my quality of my future life is being effected today by not being on these drugs. Top Stories

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