Ontario's Liberal government is considering raising a threshold so more low-income seniors qualify for a drug benefit just four days after announcing an increase in the budget.
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Thursday's budget indicated that starting Aug. 1, single seniors with an income of up to $19,300 would qualify for the benefit, up from the previous threshold of just over $16,000. The threshold for senior couples would rise from $24,175 to $32,300.
Seniors' groups and opposition parties slammed the new thresholds as still being too low, with NDP Leader Andrea Horwath asking the premier in question period Monday if she believes a senior with an income of $19,300 is affluent.
'The notion that a senior making over $19,000 is going to be affluent or rich is ridiculous.' - Ontario PC Leader Patrick Brown
Wynne said her government will "look carefully" at that amount and make changes if need be.
"The objective was to make sure that more seniors have free access to prescription medication," Wynne said. "If we didn't get that right ... we will correct that in the process of consultation on the regulation."
Seniors with incomes below $19,300 would have no annual deductible, but those above the threshold will see their deductible increase from $100 to $170 and have their co-payments rise from $6.11 to $7.11 per prescription.
Threshold 'clearly' too low
Seniors' advocacy group CARP said that while it was encouraged by some funding for seniors, including making the shingles vaccine free for those 65 to 70, it was "disappointed" with the changes announced in the budget to the Ontario Drug Benefit program.
"Our concern is that there's a substantial increase, a 70 per cent increase, that's going to impact seniors who are borderline [in] poverty," said Wanda Morris, CARP's vice-president of advocacy.
"It's hard to say what the right number is, but clearly, $19,301 is too low."
Health Minister Eric Hoskins said the threshold had not increased since 1996 and the boost announced in the budget will allow 170,000 more seniors to qualify for the supports. But he wouldn't say if the government's consideration of a potential further increase is an admission that the $19,300 barrier is too low.
"The opposition, they choose to sort of look at the glass half-full approach," Hoskins said.
"If this is approved, there will be 170,000 — meaning almost half a million low-income seniors in total, an additional 30,000 each year — that will benefit from having no ... annual deductible at all and that's a pretty great thing."
Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown said the possible turnaround from the threshold set in the budget shows the Liberals didn't do their research properly.
"The notion that a senior making over $19,000 is going to be affluent or rich is ridiculous," he said. "This helps a small amount of seniors but hurts the vast, vast majority."