By Deron Hamel
Thanks to a new Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) drug program, young Ontarians with chronic health conditions will no longer have to decide whether to fill needed prescriptions or pay their bills, says Meagan FitzGerald.
The program, called OHIP+, came into effect Jan. 1. OHIP+ will ensure that more than 4,400 drug products will be free for anyone under 25 who has a prescription and a valid OHIP card.
Meagan, the executive director of Epilepsy Simcoe County, recalls how the financial strain she faced after being diagnosed with juvenile myoclonic epilepsy at 20, during her second year at university, eventually became overwhelming.
Meagan had been experiencing seizures for a year before her diagnosis. Her seizures had taken a toll on her academic life, she recalls. After her diagnosis, she began taking seizure-control medications, but the side effects were also interfering with her life.
“It was difficult to attend class, difficult to keep up, and it just got harder and harder,” Meagan tells Voices of Epilepsy.
Eventually, the physical and emotional stress of living with epilepsy became so great that Meagan was forced to drop out of university. After leaving university, she moved into her own apartment.
While she was at university, Meagan was living with her parents and received medication coverage under her parents’ policy and the school’s drug plan.
Her medication coverage ended when she dropped out of university. Now living alone, Meagan found herself having to juggle paying rent, living expenses, tuition fees she still owed the university and buying expensive medication – up to $500 per month – to control her seizures.
“I went from paying rent and tuition to paying rent and tuition from that year because I had passed the drop-out date deadline, and what equalled to almost paying a second rent for my meds because they were so expensive,” she says.
“I was working crazy hours just to make ends meet, and I would work myself to the point where I would push myself too far and have a seizure at work, and I would have to take some time off work to recover, and that would leave me needing money again. It was a vicious cycle.”
Meagan, now 22, says the OHIP+ program is a step in the right direction and will ease the financial burden of having epilepsy and other chronic conditions for young Ontarians.
“If this program had been in place four years ago, there would have been way less (financial burden),” she says.
“Paying $500 a month for a 20-year-old girl who had to drop out of school because of a chronic illness was a lot of money. (This program) would have taken a lot of pressure off me.”
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