Pharmacare changes could see Nova Scotia seniors paying $10M more

Changes to the Nova Scotia seniors' pharmacare program will see some users pay higher premiums, contributing up to $10 million more next year, Health Department documents show.

120,000 seniors enrolled in Pharmacare program

Changes to Nova Scotia's pharmacare program mean some seniors will pay less for drugs while others could see their costs go up, depending on their income. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

Changes to the Nova Scotia seniors' pharmacare program will see some users pay higher premiums, contributing up to $10 million more next year, Health Department documents show.

That's based on no one leaving the program as a result of higher premiums, which is the best-case scenario painted by the province.

The department released the documents after its deputy minister came under scrutiny Wednesday from opposition MLAs during a committee meeting that discussed changes to the program that are coming April 1.

Thursday's information was delivered by two provincial Health Department bureaucrats who were called in to try to quell growing frustration over the secrecy surrounding changes to the drug plan for seniors.

The move to raise premiums for some seniors could be risky.

In a worst-case scenario, the changes will drive out of the program half of those who pay more into the system than draw in benefits. Under that model, member contributions would drop by $6 million next year.

All told, 120,000 Nova Scotians are currently enrolled in the program.

'Truly unfair'

Health Minister Leo Glavine has said the changes are needed to maintain the viability of the program, given rising drug
costs.

But that's no longer his key focus, nor that of his boss, Premier Stephen McNeil. On Thursday, both men said the changes were driven by the need to bring fairness to the system.

"Someone with an annual household income of $75,000 paying the same premium as someone with a household income of $35,000 didn't make sense and was not fair," said McNeil. "And I think any reasonable Nova Scotia looking at that would say so."

Glavine offered a similar view.

"Sustainability is certainly part of it but as we drilled down on that sustainability piece, the most glaring thing that came at me as minister and our government was, 'Oh my gosh this program is truly unfair.'"

The move away from using sustainability as the driving force behind the changes may be because the figures released Thursday do not appear to support the claims the province will save money in the long run.

If the province maintained the current premium structure, the program would cost the government about $150 million by 2020.

Under the changes, the province will save just $5 million a year by 2020 under the best-case scenario, or incur $5 million in extra costs in the worst case.

'The government's not being honest' 

That suggests keeping the current system might be a better bet. But the Health Department officials would not comment on that outcome.

Sustainability is just one factor in the program changes, they said. Fairness is also important, they said.

Nova Scotia opposition leaders pounced on the government's change of direction.

"Look, I'm really pissed off. The government basically lied to the seniors of the province," said Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie.

"They told them they need them to pay more because it would make it sustainable. Well that's just not true. They're ripping $10 million more out of the pockets of our seniors and putting it in their own pockets as a government to try and balance the budget." 

Interim NDP Leader Maureen MacDonald offered the same assessment.

"The government's not being honest. They haven't been honest from day one about what's going on and what they're doing and why they're doing it."

About the Author

Jean Laroche

Reporter

Jean Laroche has been a CBC reporter for 32 years. He's been covering Nova Scotia politics since 1995 and has been at Province House longer than any sitting member.

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