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St. Albert family hit hard by provincial changes to healthcare, education

One St. Albert family is losing their drug coverage and being forced to switch to a different medication to treat their son's Crohn's Disease.

One local family is speaking out after they received a “triple-whammy” of provincial funding changes.

Stan Bolen, who is 67 years old, found out after the release of the UCP government’s first provincial budget that his 62-year-old wife, Heiltje, and 21-year-old son, Cameron, would be losing coverage through his provincial health plan.

The Alberta government made changes to the Alberta Seniors Benefit Drug Program, which will end the coverage for dependents of seniors starting on March 1.

Right now, Alberta seniors in the program have received premium-free coverage for medication and health services for themselves, their spouses and dependents. But in one month, that coverage will be restricted only to seniors over the age of 65.

On top of losing their family coverage, Cameron, who has Crohn’s Disease, will have to switch from using a biologic medication to treat his illness to a biosimilar. The family doesn’t know how they will be able to fund the new medication, and if they can find a way, it is not known if it will properly treat Cameron's illness.

The family was hit with even more bad news when they found out MacEwan University would be taking a financial hit and the program Cameron is enrolled in anticipates a 10-per-cent increase in tuition next year.

Stan said he is feeling “upset, angry and lost” after all of these cuts have drastically changed their lives.

The retired CN worker said he and his wife have some medical coverage through the CN pension plan, but Cameron will have to take out his own medical plan to try to cover some of his costs.

Cameron was diagnosed with Crohn’s last year after suffering from symptoms for years. The young student was sick and exhausted while trying to make his way through a science degree.

“He couldn't eat a lot, what he did eat just went right through him and he was anaemic. His university grades just plummeted because he was so sick. It was all he could do to just get on the bus and get to university and get back home,” Stan said.

After Cameron started receiving treatment, he began to recover in just a few months.

"He didn't look like death warmed (over). He was getting a little colour back and getting some strength back. He was concentrating better and he is fairly healthy now,” Stan said of his son.

Cameron is on an intravenous biomedical treatment, and every eight weeks it costs around $4,000. The family doesn’t know what the cost of the biolsimilars will be. They had been paying for part of the treatment in combination with the help of the university and drug company.

Stan said they don’t want to switch to the biosilimars because there is not a lot of research or information on the new medications and they are worried about how effective they will be in treating the Crohn’s.

If the family can’t find drug coverage, they won’t be able to pay out of pocket for the treatment Cameron has been receiving.

“There's no way we can afford to foot the bill for it. So he will have to go on to a different type of drug, which will be not as effective,” Stan said.

The father worries his son will have to switch to an oral medication, which is not as effective as his current treatment, and Stan worries Cameron will become sick again.

Stan said these huge financial changes were unexpected for him because Premier Jason Kenney campaigned on maintaining the status quo in the health and education systems.

The senior is speaking out because he wants the public to know the impact of these provincial changes on people living in the province.

“It’s always good if people at least realize what these leaders of ours that they elected, what kind of havoc they are doing to people’s lives,” Stan said.

Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

About the Author: Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Jennifer Henderson is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for Great West Media based in St. Albert, Alta.
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