Drug program changes could leave 46K Albertans without coverage starting March 1
CALGARY -- The province is changing eligibility requirements for the Seniors Drug Benefit Program on March 1, which could leave some 46,000 Albertans without coverage.
The United Conservative Party announced in the October budget that it will no longer cover drug costs for spouses under age 65 and dependent children of seniors.
Many people are only finding out now, as letters have been sent to those about to be affected.
"When I got the letter, and then when I read it, I was just shocked," said Judith Pittman.
"I did watch the budget. I watched all the news that I guess this was just buried deep because I had no idea."
Pittman is 76-years-old. Her 63-year-old husband, John, suffers from end-stage liver disease after contracting hepatitis C. He is presently covered under her seniors health benefits, but received one of the termination notices last week
A spokesperson for the health minister told CTV News on Monday that in the view of the province, the Seniors Drug Benefit Program is for seniors only, not their spouses or dependants.
“No other province covers non-seniors through a seniors drug program,” said Steve Buick, press secretary to the health minister.
"The seniors drug program is our largest drug program, it costs $600 million a year and its cost has been rising by 8 per cent a year. This is unsustainable.”
Pittman says she voted for the UCP in hopes it would tackle the province's finances, but disagrees with slashing the health benefits.
“I really wanted to see the government curtail spending and really try to get Alberta back on track,” said Pittman. “But not by taking and attacking the most vulnerable people in the province."
Those people being taken off the Seniors Drug Benefits Program will be able to apply for non-group Blue Cross coverage, costing $63.50 per month for individual coverage. Subsidies are available for people with a low income.
According to Buick, the program cuts will save the province $36.5 million dollars per year.
Pittman says the changes could end up costing her and her husband thousands of dollars per year, as some of the 20-or-more drugs he is prescribed will not be not covered by the Blue Cross plan.
She says she sees another way for the government to save close to the same amount, without affecting the families of Alberta seniors.
“Maybe Jason Kenney needs to give up on his war room, if these are the people that he's going to make pay for it," said Pittman.