Nova Scotia's Department of Health is changing how much seniors pay for pharmacare and creating a new sliding scale so that the premiums seniors pay depends on their income.
The province's pharmacare program is a provincial drug insurance plan. To qualify, seniors must be permanent residents of the province, be over 65 years old and not have drug coverage other plans or programs.
Under the new system, people who make less will pay less for their premiums and higher-earning seniors will pay up to $100 per month for coverage.
New annual dues for coverage
Under the existing system, seniors who earn $100,000 pay the same annual premium of $424 as a senior making $24,000 per year.
Health Minister Leo Glavine says 12,000 people who now pay premiums won't have to pay after the new system goes into effect April 1.
"These changes will help those with the greatest need," Glavine said. "The biggest gain here are those in fact who are very ill equipped to pay for their required medications. When we can have 12,000 more be exempt from the premium, that's a very, very good day."
After the change goes through, the maximum amount people will pay annually will be $1,200. Seniors who earn $24,000 per year will now only have to pay $41 annually for coverage. The amounts differ for single people and couples.
Officials also say about two-thirds of seniors won't see any change in what they pay and about 29,000 people will end up paying less.
The province estimates about 8,000 seniors, or seven per cent of the total number of seniors, will pay the maximum amount.
New co-payment amounts for prescriptions
Another change is that all seniors — regardless of their income — will pay less when they pick up their prescriptions. They previously had to pay 30 per cent at the counter. That has been reduced to 20 per cent. The province pays the remainder of the cost.
The amount seniors co-pay for prescriptions will be capped at $382 per year.
Anne Corbin of Community Links — a provincial organization that advises seniors groups — worries some seniors aren't taking the medications they should because they worry about the cost. She hopes the small co-payment amount helps.
"We hear a lot of 'heat or eat,'" she said. "It would be similar I'm sure for 'Pay your prescriptions, which are very important, or don't pay your heat bill this month.'"
The health minister said the amount seniors pay for prescriptions hasn't changed since 2007. He says from now on the province will be re-examining the program every few years and he hopes this balances out a system that could've been updated sooner.
"We've gone a good ways today," Glavine said.
He says he doesn't foresee a time when some seniors won't pay anything for prescriptions.
Part of the impetus for the changes is that there are now fewer generic drug options, which once offered cost savings for the province, Glavine said.
He says 1,000 people turn 65 every month in Nova Scotia. He says ensuring more people join the program will benefit it in the long term. The Atlantic provinces are working on buying drugs together and Glavine hopes discussions of a national pharmacare continue.
The province says it paid $122 million for drugs for seniors last year.
A previous version of this article said seniors will be paying 10 per cent less on prescriptions at the counter. In fact, they'll pay 10 percentage points less.Jan 16, 2016 8:08 PM AT