Eye program expanded in B.C.

The Ministry of Health is expanding a retinal disease treatment program

Ministry of Health

The Ministry of Health is expanding a retinal disease treatment program to provide full coverage for vision-saving drug therapies for two diseases of the eye, announced Health Minister Terry Lake.

Patients with diabetic macular edema or retinal vein occlusion will receive full coverage of the cost of Lucentis (ranibizumab) and Avastin (bevacizumab) as part of their treatment by a retinal specialist.

Previously, the coverage was only available for the wet form of age-related macular degeneration.

“Vision loss can greatly impact a person’s life, both economically and socially,” said the health minister. “Today’s announcement means that vision-saving drug therapies will be available for more British Columbians, and will improve patients’ quality of life.”

Diabetic macular edema is a disease of the macula, a small area at the very centre of the retina, which can cause blurred vision and partial or complete loss of the patient’s central vision.

Retinal vein occlusion is caused when a blood clot blocks one of the tiny veins in the retina, and can lead to impaired vision and blindness.

The treatments for these two diseases will be provided by the province’s retinal specialists, ophthalmologists with extra training in diseases of the retina. Patients throughout British Columbia can see a retinal specialist by referral from a doctor or optometrist.

Full coverage of these drugs provides retinal specialists with several options to provide the most appropriate care for each patient.

“This is a huge step forward in the fight to preserve vision in people with diabetic macular leakage or retinal vein occlusions,” said Dr. Derek Godinho, president of the Association of British Columbia Retinal Specialists. “With the expanded coverage, all of our patients will now have access to sight-saving therapy for these potentially blinding conditions. We commend the government for proceeding with this very important initiative.”

In 2009, the B.C. government, working with the province’s retinal specialists, created a treatment program for the wet form of age-related macular degeneration, an eye disease which is a major cause of vision loss and blindness.

The retinal disease program treated more than 7,000 patients with age-related macular degeneration last fiscal year and cost $14 million.

With the inclusion of diabetic macular edema and retinal vein occlusion, this program is expected to treat about 8,000 patients and cost about $15.5 million this fiscal year.

Treatment with Lucentis or Avastin can help stop vision loss for patients; in some cases, the treatment can restore some lost vision.

The treatment involves injecting the drug into the patient’s eye.