Business owners balk at mandatory drug plan

Business owners in the province are raising concerns about the provincial government's plans for drug insurance.

Alward government wants to bring prescription coverage to 200,000 people

Small business owners in New Brunswick are telling the Canadian Federation of Independent Business they don't like the idea of a mandatory prescription drug plan for employees. 2:13

Business owners in the province are raising concerns about the province's plans for drug insurance.

The Alward government is working on a plan to provide drug coverage for some 200,000 people who are without insurance.

The premiums would be split three ways, with the provincial government, employees and employers all contributing.

Greg O'Donnell would like to see prescription drug coverage to help pay for his asthma medication, which costs $150 monthly. (CBC)

But many business owners and their employees say it's a cost they can't afford.

The 15 employees at Digital World in Fredericton recently voted on whether they wanted a private group insurance health plan. Greg O'Donnell works there and pays about $150 a month for medication.

"As a person with asthma, if I could get free drugs, that would be fantastic," said O'Donnell.

But the employees at the electronics store and pawn shop rejected the idea of group insurance.

"There's only a few of my co-workers who would make use of the plan," said O'Donnell. "Other people would, you know, it would just be another cost they'd have to spend money on."

But if the Alward government's plan goes through, those employees and their employers may not have a choice.

The government's plan to bring drug coverage to about 200,000 New Brunswickers currently without it would be mandatory, with the province, employees and employers sharing the cost.

That's a cost Digital World owner Trevor Rivett says would put more pressure on his business. Rivett says he already pays more than $3,000 a month for the employer's share of contributions to Employment Insurance, the Canada Pension Plan, and WorkSafeNB.

"We're competing with businesses online, across the border, so I have to match prices with businesses who are not paying $10.00 an hour, who are not paying into health plans, especially in the U.S., so it's hard to compete."

CFIB wants exemptions for some businesses

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is contacting small business owners in New Brunswick to ask them if they want the drug plan.

Richard Dunn, a policy analyst with CFIB, says he's received more than 200 responses, with 80 per cent of those saying they are against a mandatory drug plan.

Dunn says payroll taxes impede the growth of businesses. He suggested a different approach to Health Minister Ted Flemming in a meeting this week.

"Maybe we can look at giving some kind of exemption for very young professionals or very small businesses," said Dunn.

"We do also know that administrative burden affects businesses disproportionately because you have few people to spread that burden across."

The province says it intends to release details on the proposed drug plan in the spring.


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