Forcing most seniors to fork over a bit more for their prescription medicine is a small price to pay to help less affluent retirees, says Premier Kathleen Wynne.
“There are people who need supports more than others,” Wynne said in her first interview since Finance Minister Charles Sousa tabled Thursday’s budget.
“I think people who have the ability to pay understand. They understand that if someone is struggling, they need more support . . . and that’s exactly what we’ve put in place,” she said in an interview with CBC Radio’s Metro Morning broadcast Friday.
In the Liberals’ $133.9-billion spending plan, which boasts free university and college tuition for students in households making less than $50,000 annually, most seniors will see their annual deductibles for taxpayer-subsidized prescription drugs jump 70 per cent.
“Low-income students, low-income seniors need that support. So it’s true that we are targeting people who are having trouble paying and trying to make it easier for them to get along,” said Wynne.
CARP, the organization that advocates for older Canadians, said it was “disappointed that government will overall reduce drug coverage for seniors.”
“Many rely on the drug-benefit program to help keep out-of-pocket costs low, keeping them healthy and out of hospitals as they deal with their chronic diseases,” said CARP’s Wanda Morris.
“The income thresholds for the drug benefit program are still very low. This increase will have a significant negative impact on many seniors whose income is just above the threshold and who are dependent on multiple prescription drugs to manage their chronic conditions,” she warned.
Opposition parties also raised alarm bells about the drug plan changes for seniors.
As part of the changes in Sousa’s budget, the annual drug deductible will rise to $170 from $100 with co-payments increasing by $1 to $7.11 per prescription for seniors above a low-income threshold of $19,300 for singles, and $32,300 for couples.
The changes take effect in August.
Raising those thresholds from the current level of $16,018 for singles and $24,175 for couples will mean another 170,000 seniors will no longer have to pay the deductible and drop to a $2 co-payment for each prescription.
Wynne noted that the there will soon be free shingles vaccinations for Ontarians between 65 and 70, the age range where that painful viral infection is most likely to strike. Those shots will save eligible seniors $170.
“So we’re making changes that make sense and there are some instances where people will pay a bit more, for higher income seniors. Not for low-income seniors and that’s the difference,” Wynne said.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the income thresholds are still too low and will particularly pinch seniors living on fixed incomes in expensive urban centres such as Toronto.
“Any extra deductibles and co-pays come out of something else in their budget, such as food on the table or even recreational activities,” she added, as she promised to raise the issue in the legislature next week.
“I’m not sure how much this has sunk in with people yet. As it settles in, more seniors are going to be alarmed.”
Horwath said it’s good that more low-income seniors will enjoy lower drug costs under the reforms but maintains the government erred in “making an assumption that seniors just over the thresholds can afford it.”
“There may be some seniors that have high incomes but the majority of seniors are not in that category.”