Premium rates for proposed drug plan remain unknown

The New Brunswick government is releasing little information on premiums residents will likely be faced with once its mandatory prescription drug program is up and running.

Health Minister Ted Flemming said the prescription drug plan is a priority

The New Brunswick government is releasing few details over the premiums associated with its new prescription drug plan 2:10

The New Brunswick government is releasing little information on premiums residents will likely be faced with once its mandatory prescription drug program is up and running.

Although it is becoming clear most plan members will be paying significantly more with coverage than they do now.

"The details of the premiums have not been determined at this point in time," said Melanie Sivret, a spokesperson for the Department of Health, in an email to CBC News on Thursday.

"It will depend on government's decision and which plan option they select."

The New Brunswick government is moving forward with a mandatory prescription drug plan. (CBC)

On Tuesday, the provincial government released a 107-page report from its Advisory Committee on Health Benefits that outlined four possible options for supplying mandatory prescription drug coverage to 70,000 New Brunswick families who are without a plan currently. 

But all four options require about $120 million in premiums to be paid by a combination of government, business and plan subscribers.

That's an average of $1,700 in premiums per family per year even though the vast majority of people who are to be covered spend a fraction of that on prescription drugs now. 

According to government figures, 53,000 people (or 76 per cent) of the families, who are currently without coverage, spend an average of $760 per year on prescription drugs. Meanwhile, the remaining 17,000 spend eight times as much, an average of $6,470 per year.

That sets up a clear division of winners and losers under the government policy with the drug costs of one group increasing substantially to help pay for significant cuts in costs for the second group, a feature the committee who designed it was open about.

"One critical success factor identified by the committee is a fair redistribution of costs to allow those who are experiencing financial difficulty to be supported by those who can afford to pay," said the committee's report

Adding to the redistribution are proposed deductibles, where, under one option, families paying the new premiums will also be responsible to pay $500 for prescription drugs on their own every year before their insurance can be used.

That means some families who paid $500 for prescription drugs with no coverage this year could face bills triple that or more under the provincial government's plan, after premiums and deductibles, to access the same amount of drugs next year.

The provincial government says the trade off is that everyone will benefit from the protection prescription drug insurance offers and costs for those now paying enormous bills on their own will be lowered substantially.

In addition, some low-income families will be eligible for subsidies and those who work will be entitled to mandatory help from their employers.

Still, it's clear many facing increased costs, particularly the self employed, will have to pay on their own.

On Tuesday, Health Minister Ted Flemming said enacting the plan is a priority of his department but told reporters months of work are still required to figure out details of coverage and who pays what.

"We are starting [a] full court press to get this plan together, get it out to roll it out and get the people of New Brunswick insured the way they need and deserve to be as soon as possible," Flemming said.