January 27, 2016 6:59 pm
Updated: January 27, 2016 7:18 pm

No ‘secrecy’ in costs of pharmacare changes, but no details yet either

WATCH ABOVE: The lack of information from the health department has made for a fiery round of questions between MLA’s and health department staff at public accounts this morning. Marieke Walsh reports.

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The Nova Scotia government says it is not being secretive about the cost impact of changes to the seniors’ pharmacare plan, but the exact impact still is not being released.

Following almost two hours of questions about whether the government is clawing back more money from seniors, the health department’s deputy minister agreed to release the modeling that backs up the changes by the “end of today.” However, as of 8 p.m. Wednesday, no information was sent out.

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“There’s absolutely no secrecy,” said Deputy Health Minister Peter Vaughan. He said the exact impact of the changes wasn’t released because the numbers are “moving constantly.”

On Jan. 15, Health Minister Leo Glavine announced changes to the seniors’ pharmacare plan, increasing premiums for high-income seniors, and either lowering premiums or removing them for low-income seniors. At a technical briefing before the announcement government staff repeatedly said the goal is to make the changes “revenue neutral.” Meaning while individual seniors would be paying different premiums, the total payment from seniors wouldn’t go up or down as a result of the changes.

At the time Glavine said the changes were made to help “those with the greatest need.” Although the exact numbers have not been released, it appears the changes also help the government’s bottom line. Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Premier Stephen McNeil said the program as it existed “wasn’t sustainable, so we had to make adjustments.”

‘I have never heard so much BS in all my life’

Vaughan started off at a public accounts committee saying he didn’t have a dollar amount for the cost impact of the change, because there are “different scenarios.” For example, he said how many new seniors enroll in the program and fluctuating drug costs affect the number.

However, later in the committee meeting Vaughan told MLAs, his department had run the model to predict the cost but he didn’t have the number with him.

“I’ve never heard so much BS in all my life,” said Interim NDP Leader Maureen MacDonald. “And I’ve heard a fair amount in my 18 years here.”

Progressive Conservative Finance Critic Tim Houston estimated the changes will net the government almost $100 million, from seniors. If true, that would be close to double the $53 million it got from seniors in the pharmacare program last year.

The total cost of the program is $166 million.

“Its going to cost seniors, on balance, more,” Houston said. “I can’t for the life of me understand why the government just won’t tell us how much more.”

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