Drug program use lower than expected

Rob Antle
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

No word on whether changes being considered

The Department of Health has expressed surprise that two highly touted new provincial prescription drug programs have not been used as much as officials had expected.

"Neither of the two programs have been utilized to the level of what was estimated to be the need prior to the introduction of the two programs," say briefing notes prepared last fall for incoming Health Minister Jerome Kennedy.

The Department of Health has expressed surprise that two highly touted new provincial prescription drug programs have not been used as much as officials had expected.

"Neither of the two programs have been utilized to the level of what was estimated to be the need prior to the introduction of the two programs," say briefing notes prepared last fall for incoming Health Minister Jerome Kennedy.

The Telegram obtained the briefing papers under provincial access-to-information laws.

Officials cited minimum wage hikes as one reason for the lower-than-expected use of the so-called Access program.

That program was announced by the Williams administration in 2006 to expand prescription drug coverage for lower-income residents.

"With recent increases in the minimum wage, the number of beneficiaries who qualify under the Access plan has decreased," the briefing papers note.

On Jan. 1, the province's minimum wage increased to $9.50 an hour, or nearly $20,000 per year for a full-time worker.

When the Access plan was unveiled in 2006, the threshold for new drug benefits was set at $19,000 for individuals, $21,000 for couples and $30,000 for families.

According to the Department of Health website, those numbers have not changed.

That suggests a single minimum-wage employee would now not qualify for the enhanced benefits.

Kennedy could not be reached for comment this week on whether the government is considering any changes to the thresholds or programs.

When the Access plan was announced four years ago, the province trumpeted the move as the first expansion of the drug program since 1980.

The Department of Health said the new initiative would cost the treasury an extra $32.8 million a year and provide coverage to 97,000 more people.

The cost turned out to be overstated, according to a review of government financial records.

And briefing papers suggest the number of people who benefited from the changes was likely over-estimated as well.

The Department of Health did not respond to Telegram inquiries for updated numbers this week.

A second program announced in 2007 - called the Assurance program - aids those burdened by high prescription-drug costs.

In an October 2007 news release, then-health minister Ross Wiseman trumpeted an overall $53.5-million budget increase for prescription drug programs, up to $151 million annually.

But while the budget was increased, government financial documents show the province actually spent much less than the allotted amount.

That fiscal year, drug coverage spending came in at $117 million - some $34 million less than budgeted.

In 2008-09 - the last period for which final numbers are available - the province originally expected to spend $149 million, but actually paid out $121 million.

The Department of Health briefing papers indicate there are roughly 120,000 beneficiaries of one of the four government-run prescription drug programs.

rantle@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Department of Health

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page

Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • Andrew
    July 02, 2010 - 13:27

    Min. limit should obviously be set at $25,000. The family limit should also be higher, I know it's low income targeted, but I highly doubt any family is comfortable living off less than $30,000/yr...

  • Andrew
    July 01, 2010 - 20:15

    Min. limit should obviously be set at $25,000. The family limit should also be higher, I know it's low income targeted, but I highly doubt any family is comfortable living off less than $30,000/yr...