Government pressured into looking at alternatives
to Pharmacare’s insurance plan for seniors

By Carol McLeod

HALIFAX — Seniors in Nova Scotia may no longer have to pay annual premiums for Pharmacare coverage, thanks to the new political muscle being flexed by opposition parties following the election of a minority Liberal government in March.

Liberal Health Minister Jim Smith has said he will act quickly on a Conservative motion to investigate alternatives to the Pharmacare program for seniors. Currently, seniors pay a $215 annual premium plus 20% of prescription costs up to a yearly maximum of $200.

“It’s a bit of a complex issue, but I think it’s doable,” Smith told reporters. “I think we can work toward doing away with premiums, but obviously we’d have to readjust the co-pay.”

For several years, the Conservative party has been advocating for Pharmacare to pay only the portion of drug costs not covered by other plans. “It would put the onus back on the federal pension plan and other private insurers to pay their share of providing drugs in Nova Scotia,” Conservative leader John Hamm has said.

While conceding that Hamm’s idea has merit, Smith has indicated that any changes to the $54-million program should not increase the government’s share of funding, which currently sits at between 70% and 80% (leaving 20% to 30% for seniors). Costs were originally intended to be split 50-50.

Ever since Pharmacare was transformed into a drug insurance plan three years ago, many seniors have questioned its value. Some, especially those with private insurance coverage, have opted out altogether. Others who don’t regularly use medications have told the government that they would rather face higher co-pays when and if they need a prescription than pay an annual premium now.

“It will be interesting to see what they come up with,” says Pat King, executive director of the Pharmacy Association of Nova Scotia. “They have certainly got their work cut out for them.”