Seniors build support for protecting health coverage

Momentum is building to protect Alberta’s public health system against changes that will increase the cost of drug coverage for many seniors and deregulate long-term care costs.

Photo by JERRY GERLING/Advocate staff

Momentum is building to protect Alberta’s public health system against changes that will increase the cost of drug coverage for many seniors and deregulate long-term care costs.

A public meeting co-sponsored by Central Alberta Council on Aging, Council of Canadians Red Deer and area chapter, and Red Deer College social work program attracted about 200 seniors Monday night at Red Deer College.

Announced in December and going into effect January 2010, the new pharmaceutical plan will see low-income seniors get their drugs for free and other seniors paying a deductible based on their income.

Noel Somerville, chairman of the seniors task force with Public Interest Alberta, called the changes morally wrong.

“I want to know when it became acceptable public policy in this province, or any where else, to put the heaviest load on the frailest and sickest people in society. I think that’s totally shameful,” said Somerville to the applause of the full house in Margaret Parsons Theatre. It’s financially stupid to make it harder for seniors to get the prescriptions they need to stay healthy and out of hospital, he said.

Seniors are the only group being asked to pay a deductible for drugs based on their income and government also intends to stop regulating the rates seniors pay to live in nursing homes and get the help they need to live, like getting out of bed, washed and fed, he said.

“You wouldn’t think to get the cardiac victim paying for his bypass operation. But we’re asking people who are frail to pay for accommodations and in many of these facilities we’re asking them to pay for the care that they require to stay alive and have some sort of quality of life.”

The number of long-term care beds will be frozen at 14,500 despite an increasing population and 1,500 seniors stuck in acute care beds while they wait for long term care,” Somerville said.

“It flies in the face of Premier Stelmach’s promise during the last provincial election to provide 600 new long term care beds in this province.”

Somerville said Health Minister Ron Liepert says seniors shouldn’t have a sense of entitlement just because they turned 65.

“I don’t have a sense of entitlement because I turned 65 but I damn well do have a sense of entitlement to the health care system that I worked to build, as all of you did, and I supported with my taxes all my life and it should be there for old people who are frail and sick.”

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