By Lincoln DePradine
It was a disappointment to many in the African-Canadian community when Progressive Conservative government politicians, including the PC’s three Black MPPS, voted down a private member’s bill that sought to ensure prostate cancer screening tests are always covered under the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP).
It’s said that one out of seven Canadian men would be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime. However, the risk of falling ill with the disease is far greater for men of Caribbean and West African background.
Among the advocates of universal prostate screening is The Walnut Foundation (TWF), a registered non-profit support group whose aim is to enhance awareness “in the Black community about diseases affecting Black men’’, including prostate cancer.
TWF, which was established in 2007, also provides information about prostate diagnosis, treatment and follow-up practices.
At the moment, however, OHIP does not provide universal coverage for residents of the province that want to undergo prostate-related rectal exam and PSA blood test.
In an attempt at changing the situation, Niagara Falls MPP Wayne Gates introduced a private member’s bill to ensure OHIP coverage of prostate cancer screening tests. The motion was brought forward for second reading in the legislature, where it passed, receiving all-party support.
The motion, which was supported by TWF and the Canadian Cancer Society, went to the government to act on — but it didn’t.
On Monday, the legislation failed to move forward after PC MPPs – including Charmaine Williams, David Smith and Patrice Barnes – voted against it. Williams, Smith and Barnes were elected to provincial parliament in last year’s Ontario polls.
Disappointment in the action of the ruling Conservatives were expressed by Gates and Dr Jill Andrew, both members of Official Opposition New Democratic Party,
“This was an opportunity for the PCs to ensure equal access to tests, and to save lives,’’ Gates said. “The truth is that early detection saves lives.’’
Andrew said she “wholeheartedly supported’’ the motion by Gates.
“For men across the board, early detection can be a matter of life and death,’’ said Andrew, the twice elected Member of Provincial Parliament for Toronto-St. Paul’s.
“Prostate cancer disproportionately impacts Black men – our dads, uncles, brothers, sons, nephews, friends, partners. MPP Gates desperately made this point! It was shocking to see the three Black PC MPPs vote against their very own community.’’
For the general population, it’s recommended that prostate screening begins when a man reaches the age of 50. TWF suggests lowering the age of 40 to start the testing for Black men.
Currently, Ontario will pay for the test if a doctor suspects prostate cancer or if a patient has been diagnosed with the disease and is receiving treatment or following treatment.
Gates’ bill would have extended OHIP coverage of prostate cancer screening, under any circumstance, with a doctor’s referral.
“We know some people can’t afford to get the test — that’s what this is about. I’m saying to you guys, I’m begging with you — there’s no need for men to die,” Gates told his colleagues in the legislature.
“How can anybody in this House not support having this covered by OHIP to save men’s lives? I’m sorry, I get emotional because I’ve seen the people that have died from prostate cancer and the suffering they went through.”
Gates said the PSA test is covered by eight other provinces and three territories when requested by a doctor.
The cost of a private PSA test is between $35 and $50, depending on the level of the test. The cost of the test under OHIP is about $9 and would cost the province $3 million annually but save close to $60 million in the healthcare system, said Gates.