TORONTO – Ontario’s Liberal government is backtracking on changes announced in its recent budget that would have increased drug costs for most seniors.
The government proposed in the budget to raise the Ontario Drug Benefit low-income threshold for single seniors from $16,018 to $19,300 and for senior couples from $24,175 to $32,300.
Seniors below the threshold would pay no deductible, but seniors above that threshold were going have their deductible increased from $100 to $170 and have their co-payments rise from $6.11 to $7.11 per prescription.
Following an outcry from seniors’ groups and opposition politicians, who said most seniors, particularly those with incomes just above that threshold, could not afford to pay more for their medications, the premier said her government would consider raising that threshold even higher.
Health Minister Eric Hoskins announced Monday that the deductible now will not be increased for seniors with incomes above $19,300, but that threshold won’t be changing, except to be indexed to inflation.
“We went into the budget wanting to make a difference to more than 170,000 low-income seniors,” Hoskins said, which is the number of seniors the government estimates will benefit from the raised threshold.
“As we posted the regulation…we wanted to hear from Ontarians, particularly our seniors’ groups. We heard from them, we consulted with them.”
The ministry couldn’t say what extra costs it will incur because of the changes.
More than 50 seniors’ and health advocacy groups wrote an open letter to Premier Kathleen Wynne last month, calling on the government to cancel the plan to raise the deductible and co-pay amounts for seniors above the threshold.
The seniors’ advocacy group CARP said Monday it is “delighted” with the reversal.
“Anybody can make a mistake and I’m really pleased that they’ve owned it and that they’ve changed course,” said Wanda Morris, CARP’s vice-president of advocacy.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said it shouldn’t have taken such an outcry for the Liberals to realize it was the wrong policy.
“It took seniors and seniors’ organizations a lot of effort to roll back the intentions of the Liberals and so one thing for sure, congratulations to those seniors’ organizations and the folks that worked on those efforts because they were loud and they were adamant this was the wrong direction for Ontario.”
Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown said it’s good the Liberals eventually made the right move.
“Maybe if they had finished the consultations before they presented the budget they might have realized that,” he said. “I’m glad they’re correcting course, but it just shows how out of touch they were with seniors in this province.”