Employers in New Brunswick won't get a permanent break on helping pay for the province's new prescription drug program, says Health Minister Ted Flemming.
Under the plan introduced this week, employers aren't required to contribute to the cost of the program.
A report last year recommended that employers who don't provide drug coverage that matches the government's plan be forced to help pay for it.
Flemming says the economy's too fragile to impose those costs on businesses, but he's working on it.
"First of the year, we're starting negotiations and discussions with business as to their role and methodology of their participation," he said.
The initial payment holiday for businesses is one of the few criticisms of the new insurance plan. The Opposition Liberals contend the program may be too expensive for taxpayers unless business owners contribute.
"The Alward government has not tied any dollar amount to what businesses have to pay," said Liberal health critic Donald Arseneault.
The bill before the legislature allows employers to pay the premiums of their employees.
Richard Dunn of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business says that will work as a voluntary measure. But Dunn says a mandatory requirement could put some small entrepreneurs out of business.
"Nowhere else in the country do we see that the employer community is tapped for this type of contributions," said Dunn.
"Many employers do want to be a part of it," said Dunn. "Many other employers are already at the breaking point in some cases, in severe cases
"Something like this could really deliver a final blow to their business endeavours."
The province estimates 70,000 New Brunswickers do not have prescription drug coverage through an employer and are not eligible for existing provincial coverage through social assistance.
The first phase of the plan – from April 1, 2014 to March 31, 2015 – is expected to cost the province $27 million. The annual cost after that is unclear.
After the first year, employers who offer prescription drug coverage will be forced to raise their standards to match the government's plan.
Under the province's plan, drugs on the provincial formulary will be covered. That includes some so-called catastrophic drugs like Remicade that carry a high cost, but does not include others.