Drug fees unfair to Alberta senior citizens

Most Red Deer seniors received a Seniors Health Bulletin in the mail from Blue Cross, as did all seniors in the province.

Most Red Deer seniors received a Seniors Health Bulletin in the mail from Blue Cross, as did all seniors in the province.

Albertans are already familiar with Blue Cross, which has been operating the drug coverage program for seniors on behalf of Alberta government for many years. The bulletin, created especially for you by Alberta Health and Wellness, is an explanation of the latest version of the Pharmaceutical Strategy, which is to be imposed on Albertans in a few months.

This is the version that includes the “improvements” made by Health Minister Ron Liepert in response to the widespread outcry over the unfairness of the first version.

To ease the financial burden for some seniors, those who are poorest (with an income of less than $24,000 a year for a single senior) will not have to pay any premiums.

Those who are very rich (a single senior with an annual income of $48,001 or more, or a senior couple with a joint income of $96,001 or more) will pay the full Blue Cross premium of $762 a year for a single senior ($1,416 for a senior couple), and a co-payment of 20 per cent for each prescription. Seniors whose income is somewhere in between will qualify for a partial subsidy.

The minister has decided that people who are not rich but also not really poor can be divided into two groups, and receive either a 25 per cent or a 50 per cent premium subsidy. This leads to some ridiculous and very unfair situations.

At the present time, the full Blue Cross premium is $762 for a single senior. A person with an annual income of $48,000 will be eligible for the 25 per cent subsidy and will pay a premium of only $571.44. If his neighbour has an income of $1 more, he will pay the full premium. How fair is that?

Because prescription drugs are part of preventive medicine, putting financial barriers in the way of people obtaining the medications they require is short-sighted.

They may end up seriously ill in the emergency room and frequently have to be admitted to hospital where, under the terms of the Canada Health Act, the medicine they require is freely available to them. Such treatment in acute care hospitals will cost far more than any money saved by altering the current drug plans.

We fund our social services through various means but primarily through a taxation system that is supposed to spread the burden equitably throughout the population in accordance with each individual’s ability to pay.

We don’t tax only parents for education costs; we don’t tax only national park users for the cost of those amenities, so why are we forcing other seniors to carry the cost of free prescription drugs for their low-income peers?

Healthy Albertans of modest income, including seniors, will tend to opt out of this optional plan because the premium rates are well in excess of the actual cost of the drugs they require.

In doing so, however, they will be gambling that they are not going to be hit by a chronic condition, because opting back in involves a three-month waiting period before coverage begins. A proper pharmacare plan should not be an invitation to gamble with your health.

Universality is a key principle of health care coverage. What the government doesn’t seem to understand is that seniors don’t want to be divided into income categories. During our working lives and even in retirement, we have purchased supplementary health care insurance with fixed coverage, a fixed co-payment, and a fixed premium; income doesn’t enter into it.

Write and call Health and Wellness Minister Ron Liepert and our MLAs Cal Dallas and Mary Anne Jablonski and ask them to go back to fairness. They must be held accountable for protecting the interests of seniors, of all income levels.

Shirley Thomas

Red Deer