The Alberta government is set to make changes to its drug programs starting March 1, ending coverage for dependents under the Alberta Seniors Benefit Drug Program.
That change was announced as part of the 2019 Alberta budget but affected individuals were reminded of the pending change in letters sent out by the government last week.
“To ensure the government can continue to provide this program to our province’s seniors and to keep Alberta’s health system sustainable, the government is changing the eligibility criteria for the program,” the letter reads.
Steve Buick, a spokesperson for Health Minister Tyler Shandro, wrote in an email that the program is Alberta’s largest drug program, costing $600 million per year with that cost rising eight per cent annually.
“The Seniors [Benefit] Drug Program is for seniors — not for non-seniors. No other province covers non-seniors through a seniors’ drug program,” he wrote.
Ending coverage for dependents such as partners or those under 65 will save the province approximately $36.5 million each year, Buick wrote.
Approximately 46,000 Albertans currently utilize the program as implemented as dependents, according to Buick.
‘It’s a stressor’
One of the Albertans who will lose their coverage in March is Edmonton resident Heather Waldie.
Waldie is living with Stage 4 breast cancer, which involves taking expensive drugs — which, until now, had been covered by the government.
“My coverage is ending because I’m 63. I’m under 65. My husband is over 65, but with the new eligibility criteria I am no longer eligible for drug coverage,” Waldie said in an interview with the Calgary Eyeopener. “My future is very uncertain because I have ongoing treatment. So it’s a stressor.”
Waldie said she thought the province’s claims that the program was too expensive was “absolute hogwash.” She appeared at a news conference held by the NDP in December opposing the change.
“This affects 46,000 Albertans who have contributed to life in Alberta, who want to contribute as they live their lives. Billions of dollars have been given away in tax cuts to corporations,” Waldie said. “I think this is completely affordable by this government, but they are choosing to cut valuable programs that preserve the health and well-being of Albertans who have built this province. I think it’s outrageous.”
A former teacher, Waldie said at retirement she planned her finances based on the assumption that she would be covered under her husband’s plan.
“Seniors are part of a family household, and codependents, so it’s a family budget. You hurt one member of a family unit, you’re hurting everybody in that family unit,” she said.
The government says those who are removed from the program can apply for non-group Blue Cross coverage.
By Joel Dryden - CBC News