Expand OHIP coverage of prostate cancer blood test, NDP MPP says

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Patients should not have to reach into their wallets to pay for a potentially life-saving prostate cancer test because they show no symptoms of the disease, NDP MPP Wayne Gates says.

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Gates, accompanied by prostate cancer survivor Larry Gibson and Canadian Cancer Society executive vice-president Stuart Edmonds, called on the Ontario government Tuesday to ensure that OHIP covers the cost of prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, blood tests for anyone referred by a physician .

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“When prostate cancer is detected early, close to 100% of men will survive five years or more,” Gates said. “One in eight men in Canada will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime.”

Gates introduced a motion in the provincial legislature saying “the Ontario government should follow the lead of eight other Canadian provinces and ensure PSA testing is an eligible procedure under OHIP for individuals referred by their healthcare provider.”

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The Niagara Falls MPP has previously introduced the non-binding motion and received all-party support, but the government failed to follow up with action, he said.

A spokesperson for Health Minister Sylvia Jones said in a statement that it is against the law to charge for OHIP-covered services.

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“If a physician orders a PSA test, then it is covered by OHIP,” the statement said.

PSA testing guidelines posted online by the Ontario government say OHIP will cover the laboratory test if a man’s physician or nurse practitioner “suspects prostate cancer” based on family history, race or the results of a physical examination or if the man has already been diagnosed with prostate cancer and is receiving treatment or a check-up.

“OHIP will not pay for testing when a man’s physician or nurse practitioner does not suspect prostate cancer as a result of the findings from a routine physical examination or as a result of a patient’s family history and/or race,” the posted guidelines say. “In these circumstances, a man can have the PSA test if he is willing to pay for the test himself.”

Gibson, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer after deciding to pay for a PSA test, now runs an annual golf tournament to raise funds to help other men cover the cost.

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“Seventeen years later, I’m still here,” Gibson said. “I now have nine grandchildren, of which I didn’t have any at the time.”

Edmonds said that if the province were to negotiate the $9.50 price it currently pays for covered tests, the added cost to the treasury of expanding that coverage to all patients referred by a health-care provider would be under $3 million a year.

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