NDP leader Rachel Notley, gives a concession speech after election results, in Edmonton Alta, on Tuesday April 16, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Changes to senior drug benefits are cruel, won’t save money: Notley

Province plans to end benefits for spouses and dependents of seniors

The Alberta Opposition says changes to drug plan benefits affecting 60,000 people are not only heartless but could lead to higher health spending in the long run.

NDP Leader Rachel Notley is urging Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative government to rethink its plan to end benefits for spouses and dependents of seniors under the Seniors Drug Benefit Program.

“This is a cruel decision with serious impacts for the health of senior households,” Notley told a news conference Wednesday.

Right now, Albertans 65 or older and their spouses and dependents, regardless of age, get help covering the cost of their prescription drugs.

The program began in 1972, but the government says it’s an outlier and no other province covers dependent and spousal benefits under senior drug plans.

Alberta, citing cost and also fairness, is ending the subsidy for spouses and dependents on March 1. The government notes that 46,000 Albertans under 65 have applied for and are getting a benefit that is being denied to nearly four million Albertans who are the same age.

About 14,000 Albertans eligible for the benefit are not using it.

The program costs $600 million a year and has been growing at eight per cent annually. The change will save an estimated $36 million a year.

Those moved off coverage will still get benefits under the Alberta Blue Cross Non-Group program at a cost of $63.50 a month, or less if they qualify for low-income subsidies.

Notley and seniors advocate Frederick Brick said for families on limited and fixed incomes, that small monthly amount is a large expense, and one they didn’t plan on when they drew up their retirement plans.

“They’re forced at some point to make a choice: ‘Am I able to get the drugs I need and my family needs or do I feed my family, (or) do I look after putting a roof over their head?’” said Brick with the National Association of Federal Retirees, who shared the podium with Notley at the news conference.

Both said the $36 million is a false saving because people who can’t pay for their medications will get sicker, That could mean a greater potential to be hospitalized or require assisted living or long-term care.

“This is a very short-sighted approach,” said Brick. “The reality is we face larger problems and greater costs.”

The province is also exploring whether there should be income testing for well-off seniors to see if they should contribute to the drug benefit plan.

READ MORE: Feds lowered poverty line, reducing the number of seniors in need, documents say

While no decisions have been made on that, Notley said income tests don’t work in health care because of the wide variables involved: pharmaceuticals can spike in cost or a healthy person can suddently developed major medical issues that need thousands of dollars in drugs.

“Illness doesn’t look at your bank account. And costs can appear out of nowhere.”

The Canadian Press

DrugsSeniors

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Bashaw Rebels basketball performs well in tournaments

Senior girls win in Alix, boys strong at home despite losses

Bashaw water rate rising 31 cents

Cost set at $3.47 as town deals with unaccounted for water

VIDEO: Minister reports ‘modest progress’ after blockade talks with First Nation

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs say Coastal GasLink does not have authority to go through their lands

Trudeau confers with cabinet ministers as rail blockades continue

The Trudeau government has been criticized for not doing more to end the blockades

Canadian nurses’ unions warn national standards for coronavirus protection too low

President says safety protocols nationwide are inadequate compared to those in Ontario and other countries

Murder of sex worker exposes Canada’s hypocrisy on prostitution: advocate

A 2014 law made purchasing sex or benefiting from the selling of sex illegal

Canada’s flag was flown for first time 55 years ago today

The flag is used to celebrate wins in sports, honour Canada Day, and flown at half-mast after tragedy

No shirts, no city services: Firefighter calendar too steamy for Ontario officials

The city has never funded the calendars, but has OK’d photoshoots at city-owned properties

CFL teams under the microscope after free agency begins

While some big names remain, here’s what lies ahead leading up to next month’s CFL combine in Toronto

Kenney says ongoing rail blockade risks becoming an economic crisis

‘I think Canadians are losing patience with this. I know Indigenous people are’

Most Read