|CARP NS Wins Round #1 in Seniors Pharmacare Battle
On January 15, 2016 CARP was surprised and concerned to find that provincial government announced changes to the Seniors' Pharmacare Program would negatively and severely punish many CARP members. To add to the problem, the letter sent out to many seniors was viewed by many of our members as “threatening and punitive”. The communications to seniors and the responses from the Pharmacare call centre were, in many seniors’ opinions very inadequate, curt and unhelpful.
Fortunately the province announced that the Pharmacare premiums for seniors will not increase on April 1, and the maximum premium payment will remain at the current rate of $424.00 a year per person. It was too big an increase, it didn't cover the right kind of people and it wasn't fair to couples, it wasn't fair to people who receive GIS.
We were very involved in the process that led to that decision. CARP Nova Scotia has received more phone calls, letters and emails on this issue than any other since our Chapter was created. CARP members were VERY upset.
The plan as to raise premiums on April 1, based on income rather than the current one-price-for-all model. How much a senior citizen would pay also depends on whether they are single or part of a couple.
When CARP NS had originally been contacted last fall about the changes to Seniors Pharmacare we had been told that, after 8 years of no increase in premiums it would be necessary to do so. We were told the increased costs were going up 4.4% to 7.6% . CARP NS responded that we could support small, incremental increases if the minimum income levels at which seniors paid no premiums were raised from the current $18,000 to $25,500. Based on that previous agreement, we were shocked by the Government’s actual plan.
In response, CARP NS made the following requests.
1. Do not double and triple the premiums for thousands of NS seniors. Instead, provide for a gradual 5 – 7% per year premium increase over a number of years to keep up with increased costs of program.
2. Allow more low income seniors to be premium free. Raise the income levels for those who do not have to pay a premium to $24,500/yr.
3. Lumping couples incomes together is unfair and does not reflect today’s economic realities of family life. Do not us a different formula to determine premiums for seniors living as a single as opposed to living as a couple.
4. Assure anyone legitimately receiving GIS is not paying a premium. If the Province has a difference of opinion on the validity of GIS recipients with the Federal Government. Don’t put seniors in the middle of the disagreement.
5. There is no current appeal process. Implement a formal appeals process for seniors who feel their payment level is unfair.
6. Improve the communications process for any changes. Consult with the CARP NS and other seniors groups re the communications plan. Improve the poor and inappropriate call centre responses.
7. In the past few months, Government discussions with CARP and other seniors groups have often been tele-conference and not printed material or notes have been provided to us. Provide better information for our feedback and give CARP NS time to analyze the policy before it is announced and implemented.
Although the changes have been mostly cancelled, one change will remain. Low-income seniors will have their premiums reduced or eliminated. The province estimates 12,000 people who paid a Pharmacare premium in 2015 will not pay in 2016.
Seniors on a guaranteed income supplement will continue to be exempt from paying premiums and the co-payment will remain at 30 per cent per prescription to a maximum of $382 per year.
CARP Nova Scotia will now be working hard to make sure the government gets Seniors Pharmacare right. Seniors understand there must be some sort of increase, but it should be fair to everyone. CARP will help government do it right. Our view of this is that it is a hybrid government assistance/insurance program for which there has not been a change in the cost for eight years so there will need to be some pricing adjustments.
There has not been a timetable set for future meetings. We will keep their feet to the fire.