Fate of Ontario Drug Benefit could define federal election - 2019-01-10
My bet for 2019 is that Premier Doug Ford is going to define the next federal election. But it won't be by smoking the carbon tax. Rather, his government is likely to gut the Ontario Drug Benefit seniors' program. How the federal Liberals and NDP respond to this challenge will define their parties' visions for the country and determine the election results. The Ontario Drug Benefit plan includes a variety of programs for different recipients and for certain drugs. But seniors use more than half the ODB's $6 billion budget. Low income seniors and residents of long-term care institutions pay nothing for their drugs except $2 or less per prescription. The other 90 per cent of seniors pay as little as their deductible of $100 per year and a few dollars for each prescription.
Is the Ontario Drug Benefit seniors' program at risk of being cut this year? ( Toronto Star File Photo )
The ODB seniors' program isn't perfect but it's universal and cheap to run. Canadian public drug programs' overhead costs are one-tenth of what they are for private plans. And the ODB has an ability to negotiate lower prices for drugs than we can as individuals. Some other provinces used to have generous drug programs, but they have been eviscerated by decades of cutbacks. Now provinces make people use private plans, if they have them. Otherwise coverage is income dependent. Quebec's drug plan nominally covers the whole population through mandatory public insurance for those without private insurance. But even seniors with $25,000 incomes have to pay more than $1,000 per year in premiums. The ODB seniors' program is vulnerable. Ford inherited a $6-plus billion deficit and he's blown that up with tax reductions and lost law suits. He has made hurtful cuts — changing the ODSP disability definition, axing the universal basic income pilot and the new ODB program for children, etc. But none of these amount to serious money. Cutting the ODB seniors' program and implementing a Quebec or Manitoba-style plan could save $2 billion in one fell swoop.