At a packed town hall meeting with B.C. health minister Adrian Dix hosted by Adam Olsen, MLA for Saanich North and the Islands, constituents asked pointed questions of the minister. Two people seeking costly drug coverage brought supporters and signs.
In his introductory remarks, Olsen thanked the minister for coming and said it showed good character. Dix wanted to “disagree without being disagreeable” and said he was conscious of the 100,000 employees that deliver or administer B.C. health care.
Olsen began by asking the minister about wellness and preventative care, and Dix said poverty was a social determinant of lifespan. He said he himself had Type I diabetes, and his employment over the years has allowed him to buy healthy foods. Under the Confidence and Supply Agreement between the B.C. NDP and the Green Party, the government raised disability rates $100 per month, which he said was a form of health care.
Olsen also asked why the government made a separate ministry for mental health and addictions outside the Ministry of Health. Dix said it allowed one minister to focus on the overdose crisis, which by then had spread well beyond the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. It also meant both issues would not have to compete for resources in one ministry.
Charlie Lamb, the new chief of staff at Saanich Peninsula Hospital, was the first audience member to speak.
“For the next two to three minutes, you can call me Chicken Little because the sky is falling,” he said.
Lamb outlined the shortage of community practitioners in the province, noting many are retiring and retiring earlier. Residents graduate with $150,000 in debt, he said, and the interest on student loans is not tax deductible. He also described the high overhead for community practitioners (who need to pay for office space and administrative help) versus facility practitioners. Lamb wanted more primary care networks near hospitals to introduce community practitioners to facility care and vice-versa, and to incentivize doctors to work in groups by revising the MSP fee schedule. He also said resources were not efficiently allocated when walk-in clinics were open at the same time as other care options, so money could be saved by keeping them open only when other options were closed. Dix thanked Lamb for his suggestions, and said that like doctors, care aides were also aging, with 30 per cent of care aides over 50. He also supported team-based care.
Dix was confronted by Jillian Lanthier, mother of Landen Alexa, a six-year old boy with juvenile idiopathic arthritis. Lanthier is seeking coverage for Ilarus, a drug that costs $19,000 a month after conventional treatments did not work. Two audience members had signs with Landen’s photo, and she spoke to the minister with Landen in her arms. Dix again said that a politician should not intervene with the Common Drug Review and Drug Benefit Council, who recommend what drugs should be covered by government health plans.
Leila Zaharieva, a UVic student and cystic fibrosis patient, attended with supporters to request coverage for Orkambi, a drug that significantly increases her lung function, but costs $250,000 per year. Zaharieva said she has been trying to meet with Dix since September, and said cystic fibrosis experts disagree with the Common Drug Review board’s recommendation against covering Orkambi. Dix responded by saying the province is pressuring Vertex to lower the price and submit more evidence to the review board, and understands her frustration as the work is done with the company, not her.
A Brentwood Bay doctor asked about provincial dental coverage, and said that a province-wide dental program was tried for a few years under Bill Bennett’s Social Credit government, it was too expensive and ultimately stopped. He said the province was working to shorten waitlists for patients who require dental care in hospital settings, such as those with mental illness or disability who require full anesthesia.