Starting on March 1, Alberta is planning to drop coverage for those benefiting from the Alberta Seniors Benefit Drug Program.
CBC has reported that the change was made public in the 2019 Albertan budget as well as by letters recently mailed by the government.
The letter says, “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.”
According Health Minister Tyler Shandro’s spokesperson, Steve Buick, the seniors program is the largest drug program in Alberta. The program costs approximately $600 million annually.
“The Seniors [Benefit] Drug Program is for seniors—not for non-seniors. No other province covers non-seniors through a seniors’ drug program,” wrote Buick.
Buick says that dropping the coverage of dependents who are under the age of 65 is estimated to save Alberta about $36.5 million annually.
He noted that the number of Albertans currently using the program as dependants is about 46,000.
Heather Waldie is among the Albertans who will no longer receive coverage starting in march.
Waldie is an Edmonton resident and has Stage 4 breast cancer. Her cancer treatment requires costly drugs that the government has covered until now but that coverage will end in March.
“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 told CBC. “My future is very uncertain because I have ongoing treatment. So it’s a stressor.”
Waldie showed up to an NDP news conference to share her objections towards the program which she described as “absolute hogwash.”
“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,” she 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.”
Waldie planned her retirement from a career in teaching with the benefit program in mind.
She said, “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.”
The option that the government has suggested is applying for non-group Blue Cross coverage for Albertans losing their benefits.