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NDP says UCP changes to seniors drug benefit program could see thousands of Albertans lose coverage

The NDP is calling on Alberta's UCP government to reverse a decision on changes to who is eligible for coverage through the Seniors Drug Benefit Program.
The NDP is calling on Alberta's UCP government to reverse a decision on changes to who is eligible for coverage through the Seniors Drug Benefit Program. AP Photo/Stew Milne

Alberta’s Official Opposition is calling on the Jason Kenney government to reverse a decision that it says could see 46,000 people in the province lose coverage they receive through the Seniors Drug Benefit Program.

The program has covered prescriptions for households if at least one member was over the age of 65 but the UCP is making changes that would remove spouses and dependents from the plan.

“This Government of Alberta decision does not appear to be well thought out and [is] yet another way that they can nickel and dime vulnerable citizens,” Lori Sigurdson, seniors critic for the NDP, said in a news release issued on Tuesday.

“These Albertans often live on fixed incomes and will now be forced to pay out of pocket for the medications they need to manage chronic conditions and serious disease.”

Steve Buick, press secretary for Health Minister Tyler Shandro, told Global News in an email that changes introduced to drug coverage in October’s budget are meant “to keep the programs sustainable and maintain access to needed prescription drugs for all Albertans.”

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“The Seniors Drug Program is for seniors — not for non-seniors,” he wrote. “No other province covers non-seniors through a seniors drug program.

“The Seniors Drug Program is our largest drug program; it costs $600 million a year and its cost has been rising by eight per cent a year. This is unsustainable.”

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Sigurdson accused the UCP of “throwing seniors off their drug plan to pay for their $4.7-billion, no-jobs corporate handout.” However, Buick’s email did not indicate that any seniors who use the program would lose their coverage.

Buick said the change in coverage takes effect March 1, 2020 and is expected to save $36.5 million annually.

“Albertans affected will be contacted by mail early in the new year,” he wrote. “Pharmacists and other health-care providers will also be notified.”

READ MORE: Alberta budget 2019 full of ‘broken promises,’ bad news for taxpayers: officials

Buick noted that non-seniors can try to get coverage through the Alberta Blue Cross non-group program, which he said does not exclude applicants with pre-existing conditions.

He also said the government is “exploring options for income-testing for the seniors drug program.”

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“It’s shameful that the premier and his health minister are downloading health-care costs to seniors and their families,” said David Shepherd, health critic for the NDP.

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Watch below: (From April 5, 2016) If you’re a senior on a fixed income, Calgary researchers want to pay for your medication. As Heather Yourex-West reports, researchers are hoping to see if paying for the drugs pays off for the health system.

Alberta study offers free medication for low-income seniors
Alberta study offers free medication for low-income seniors