Health minister takes second look at seniors drug plan

EDMONTON — Health Minister Ron Liepert says he’s taking a second look at proposed changes to the seniors drug plan as a result of the economic downturn and concerns raised by seniors.

Liepert told the legislature Wednesday that his department will review the mechanics of the program after seniors complained that the $22,000 threshold is too low and should apply to the net income rather than gross income.

“The economic situation in the world has changed since we brought this policy through,” Liepert told the assembly. “The policy is still the right policy, but we’ve had a number of seniors raise issues. … We’re taking a look at all of those situations and we’ll make a determination as we go forward.”
He made the commitment to review the bill as 84 seniors from a host of seniors organizations, including the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, Elder Advocates of Alberta, Seniors Action Liaison Team and Seniors United Now, watched the proceedings from the spectators gallery.

Ireen Slater, 76, a past-president of Seniors United Now, said a threshold that requires seniors to pay for part of the cost of their drugs if they make $22,000, is too low.

“When was the last time anybody in the political scene had to try to live on $22,000 a year,” she asked reporters before question period. “I don’t think any of them have even tried and wouldn’t last very long if they did.” Slater said the changes will hit seniors hard and it’s far from the rosy picture Liepert painted when he announced the changes with the promise that most would pay less.

Some seniors will have to forgo medicine to pay bills for food and other necessities if the bill is passed without amendments, she added. She vowed that seniors will keep up the pressure until the bill is modified. “Seniors are mad,” she said. “Seniors are very upset. They’re fearful and we are not going to let go without a fight.”

Liberal seniors critic Bridget Pastoor has pressed Liepert in the legislature on an almost daily basis to address critical problems with the bill, including that it ignores the fact that single seniors will be hit harder than senior couples.

“He said he would look at it,” she said Wednesday. “He didn’t say he would do anything about it, but he said he would look at it. I do take him to his word on that. I think he will.”

Premier Ed Stelmach said people who can’t afford to pay for their medication can apply to a program for financial assistance.

“Our government cares deeply about seniors,” he said. “We also know that our seniors are looking at their investments that have diminished dramatically over the last number of months. We’re working together with all ministers to ensure that we maintain one of the best programs for seniors in the country.” But Stelmach said his Conservative government is trying to ensure the health-care system is sustainable and that the next generation will have the same quality of life.