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MLA Minute – B.C. Retinal Treatment Program cuts dismay patients

CRR MLA Doug Clovechok. Bulletin file

Doug Clovechok MLASince the NDP approved funding cuts to the B.C. Provincial Retinal Treatment Program, I have received dozens of calls, emails, and visits to my offices from constituents in Columbia River-Revelstoke who are dismayed at the prospect of loosing access to vision-saving treatments. This program has operated successfully since 2009 and covers professional fees, administrative fees, and drug costs for the treatment of Wet Macular Degeneration, Diabetic Macular Edema, and Retinal Vein Occlusion. The program has saved families over $2 Billion in health care costs, with annual savings in the range of $250 million.

It is hard to imagine why the Ministry of Health has decided to approve a 32% reduction in compensation to retinal specialists participating in the program. With inflation and the rising costs of facilities, equipment, supplies and staffing, it is not sustainable for Retinal Specialists to continue participating in the program. With no agreement in sight, all retinal specialists will be withdrawing from the program on March 21, 2024.

After this time, patients will be individually responsible for fees and drug costs. Folks simply cannot afford this extra financial burden during an affordability crisis. These are crucial treatments that give people the ability to see, and this cut has been heart wrenching for families. Some of these patients are caregivers for their partners. When an individual loses their sight, it creates a hardship for many.

My colleagues and I in the BC United Caucus have been advocating relentlessly for Health Minister Adrian Dix to walk back the cuts. On March 22, 2024, Shirley Bond, the BC United Shadow Minister for Health, reached out to Minister Dix requesting urgent action. The letter is as follows:

RE: Urgent Support Needed for Retinal Diseases Treatment Program

Dear Minister Dix,

I write this letter requesting that you take urgent action to resolve the issues related to the Retinal Diseases Treatment Program. As of March 31, 2024, 25,000 British Columbians will be impacted by the budget reductions that were approved by your Ministry. The impact of this decision will result in retinal specialists withdrawing from the program. In the event this reduction proceeds, the consequences for patients will be devastating.

This program is not just a medical service; it is a lifeline for those facing sight-threatening conditions, offering monthly injections that prevent blindness. My colleagues and I have raised this issue with you multiple times. Despite your assurance on March 14, 2024, that British Columbians would “continue to get the free service they deserve,” we have received no indication that they won’t have to start paying in just a few days.

The impact of these cuts extends far beyond statistics and budgets. It will further exacerbate our healthcare crisis by placing an unfair financial burden on individuals fighting to maintain their sight. With the fast-approaching deadline, many are left in a state of panic, desperately seeking ways to fund their own care to avoid losing their vision.

British Columbians need more than reassurances; they need to see a complete reversal of the 32 percent cut so they aren’t forced to pay for the medical care they require to maintain their vision.

British Columbians deserve access to healthcare that protects their quality of life. I urge you to prioritize this issue and reverse this harmful budget cut.

With only a few days remaining before the program will end, Adrian Dix has yet to respond. It is unbelievable that despite the government increasing spending that will lead to a record $8 billion deficit, that funds are not available to maintain this vital service. The Ministry of Health and the PHSA own recommendations from just 3 years ago made clear that this program should continue, stating, “…the benefits of the treatments continue to outweigh the potential risks.” Without these safe and effective drug treatments, affected patients are at a much higher risk of vision deterioration and/or possible blindness. This issue extends beyond the financial aspects, for the sake of ensuring quality care for British Columbians, it is critical for this government to take urgent steps so individuals are not forced to pay out of pocket so they can maintain their sight.

I want to hear from you about any concerns you have about this or any other issue. I read every email I receive. Please reach out to me at or call my office in Kimberley at (250) 432-2300 or Revelstoke at (250) 805-0323.

Carolyn Grant

About the Author: Carolyn Grant

I have been with the Kimberley Bulletin since 2001 and have enjoyed every moment of it.
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