News Conference, Monday November 21, 2011 – 10:00 AM Prescription Drug

Proposed Change to Prescription Drug Program
Moncton Lions Community Center - 473 St George Street, Moncton NB
Minister Madeleine Dubé’s proposal and its impact on Seniors

The Minister of Health, Madeleine Dubé, has proposed changes to the prescription drug program that will affect the low income seniors who are receiving annual income of $17,198 or less and couples living with a combined income of $26,955.

The Minister has said this would mean that close to 25,000 seniors access this program; this would lead to an increase in the costs for their prescribed medications.

The call for change will increase by 50%, from $250 to $500, the co-pay amount for prescription drugs for seniors on low income. A couple who is eligible for the prescription drug program currently pays the co-pay amount of $250 each for a total of $500 in a household. This would mean an increase of $1,000 for a household.

For seniors living in a special care home they are left with $135 per month from their pension and pay an average of nine prescriptions per month at a cost of $9.05 per dispensing fee. They will be left with only $53.55 for personal necessities.


Those most affected:  Seniors living in poverty

In 2010, New Brunswick’s population of citizens who were 65 years and older was 119,000 representing 16% of the total population. Of that number there were more than 55,000 seniors receiving the Guaranteed Income Supplement with 48,000 participating in the prescription drug program.

The NB Advisory Council on the Status of Women Status Report 2010 revealed that in 2007 a high number of the population living in poverty were seniors. There were 14.5% senior women (65+) and 4.6% (65+) men who were living in poverty. The same report also shows the situation is worse if we consider unattached senior women (38.2%) and unattached senior men (15.4%). (2)

We can also say that 52% of women and 42% of men in our province are receiving the Federal Government Guaranteed Income Supplement so all of them are below the poverty line.

This proposed change will have serious consequences for seniors whose income is below poverty forcing them to make choices as to whether they should continue their medication due to rising cost, cut back on the food they eat or having to cut their pills in half, resulting in medical problems which could bring them to be hospitalized, costing more to the health system.

The Minister’s rationale for increased cost

The main reason Minister Dubé has invoked to justify her proposal is the ever increasing prescription drug costs.

When we look at the share of public and private spending on prescription drugs by province in 2008, we find out that out of the ten provinces and territories, New Brunswick is the province where people pay more out of pocket.

The public spending is around 32%, the lowest of all provinces while citizens are paying 68%. (3)

We agree with the Minister that the cost of prescription drugs has increased but we need to look at why.  According to the Universal Pharmacare study “The Economic Case for Universal Pharmacare, Switzerland, like Canada has among the highest detailed process for prescription drugs and Canadians pay 30% more than the average of other countries.  Why?  To support its national pharmaceutical industry.

The burden is not problematic for Swiss citizens since 94% of drug costs are paid by public spending as compared to 45% in Canada.

We don’t agree with Minister Dubé’s proposed changes. We believe there are other ways to address the issue.

Our proposals

It is our recommendation that the Minister  use a more global and strategic approach in dealing with the issue of increasing drug costs instead of a piece meal approach by targeting the most vulnerable persons in New Brunswick.  Furthermore, we recommend the following approach:

1.    Cancel the implementation of the proposed modifications.
2.    Identify the reasons why drug costs have increased so much over 10 years.
3.    To enquire about how other provincial governments have dealt with the issue of increasing drug costs.
4.    Develop a global strategy on drug cost reduction in consultation with key stakeholders such as:
·       Organizations representative of seniors
·       Pharmacists
·       Medical profession
·       Hospitals
·       Pharmaceutical Companies
5.   To seriously consider the New Brunswick Pharmacists’ Association proposal to approve without delay a policy on generic drugs that would save millions of dollars to the Province without impacting negatively New Brunswick citizens, especially the most vulnerable ones.

If the minister is concerned about the cost involved in the co-payment program we are suggesting that she look at ways to increase revenue to our province.

1.    We need to return to the level of taxation that individuals and corporations were paying before 2008. The province has been losing hundreds of millions of dollars each year since and we need to recuperate those amount. In 2009-10 it was $143,5 million, in 2010-11 it was $257.9 million, in 2011-12 it will be $325.3 millions and the same amount the years after.(4)
2.    The province needs to lobby the federal government for the implementation of a universal Pharmacare Plan. A recent report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternative, The Economic Case for Universal Pharmacare, shows that Canada could save from $2 to $10 billion dollars if a universal plan was implemented. (3)(4)
3.    The implementation of a Public Auto Insurance Plan as proposed in 2004 would result in an increase overall to the revenues of the province estimated at $3.5 million per year.(6)

We are totally opposed to the implementation of the government‘s proposed change.

We believe, on the contrary, the government should implement the best practice of other provinces such as Nova Scotia where seniors have their premiums waived entirely if they receive the Guaranteed Income Supplement or like Québec and Alberta that provide free prescription coverage for seniors 65 and over.

The provincial government should look at other places to cut, for example, cutting tax breaks to large corporations or raising the income tax of citizens who have revenue of $100,000 and more per year. For New Brunswickers, it is more and more urgent that there be a more equitable redistribution of wealth for citizens who have the means to share with those who have less.

Contacts of Organizations

Cécile Cassista, Coalition for Seniors and Nursing Home Residents’ Rights
Linda McCaustlin, NB Common Front for Social Justice Inc.
Conrad Le Blanc, NB Seniors Citizen Federation  
Jean-Luc Bélanger, Association acadiennes et francophones des ainés du N-B.

References

1-Statistics Canada July 2010.
2. NBACSW StatusReport2010, p. 35.
3. The Economic Case for Universal Pharmacare, Costs and Benefits of publicly funded drug coverage for all Canadians, CCPA, p. 22. https://s3.amazonaws.com/policyalternatives.ca/sites/default/files/uploads/publications/National%20Office/2010/09/Universal_
Pharmacare.pdf.
4. The Economic Case for Universal Pharmacare, Costs and Benefits of publicly funded drug coverage for all Canada.
Pharmacare.pdfians, CCPA, p. 60-63.
5. The Plan to Lower Taxes in New Brunswick, 2009-2012, Department of Finance, p. 5.
6. Select Committee on Public Automobile Insurance-Executive Summary. http://www.gnb.ca/legis/business/committees/reports/2004auto/PDF/Full_Report-e.pdf