New Brunswick gets it right on drug plan

Maybe it, like health, will recover

Maybe it, like health, will recover

Three years ago, David Alward made catastrophic drug coverage one of the linchpins of his election campaign. The other was capping the Harmonized Sales Tax at 13 per cent. Thus began, perhaps, the premier’s complicated relationship with what economists term “inputs and outputs.”

Specifically, one actually needs to raise revenue before one increases spending or one tends to go broke pretty darn quickly.

Most householders in New Brunswick get this simple arithmetic. A $500-million annual deficit and a $11-billion long-term debt against the province’s accounts suggest that our elected lawmakers are not as perspicacious as the people they represent.

Still, every so often, a case can be made for a spending program in the absence of a new and ready source of revenue to cover its costs – especially when the administration of such a program will likely prevent the state’s extensive financial hemorrhaging in the future.

Indeed, such a case can be made for the Tory government’s comprehensive drug plan, announced last week, and its specific codicils for catastrophic prescription coverage. Apart from opposition Liberals in the legislature, most interested groups in the province seem sanguine about what they observe in the fine print, which splits the cost of the $50-million (per annum) plan almost evenly between consumers and the Province.

“We’re pleased to see this happening – it’s a moment in history for New Brunswick health care,” Anne McTiernan, CEO of the Canadian Cancer Society in New Brunswick, told the Telegraph-Journal last week. “It will make a huge difference on a go-forward basis for New Brunswickers. It will address both the financial barriers for people accessing important drugs.”

Added Barbara MacKinnon, president and CEO of the New Brunswick Lung Association, for the same piece: “This is an excellent plan. Although it is going to cost, it is really going to keep people out of the hospital. . .If you can get the right diagnosis, the right prescription drug plan, then you are not going to have a stroke.”

In fact, this plan is not likely to financially hobble anyone – not the province which is, arguably, already on skid row, or individuals whose premiums have been scaled to their incomes.

According to the Department of Health, “For individuals earning a gross income of $26,360 or less and families earning a gross income of $49,389 or less, the premium will be approximately $67 per month per adult ($800 per year). For individuals earning a gross income between $26,361 and $50,000 and families earning a gross income of between $49,390 and $75,000, the premium will be approximately $117 per month per adult ($1,400 per year). For individuals earning a gross income between $50,001 and $75,000 and families earning a gross income of between $75,001 and $100,000, the premium will be $133 per month per adult ($1,600 per year). For individuals earning a gross income of more than $75,001 and families earning a gross income of more than $100,001, the premium will be $167 per month per adult ($2,000 per year).”

Meanwhile, “Children 18 and younger will not pay premiums but a parent will have to be enrolled in the plan.  All plan members will be required to pay a 30-per-cent co-pay at the pharmacy up to $30 per prescription.”

There’s even a bone or two tossed to the approximately 80 per cent of New Brusnwickers who hold private drug coverage, to wit: “From May 1, 2014, to March 31, 2015, some New Brunswickers who have private drug plans but still incur high drug costs or need access to a drug covered under the new plan but not through their private plan may join the New Brunswick Drug Plan.”

After that, the province mandates that all private group drug plans “must be at least as comprehensive as the New Brunswick Drug Plan.” That means they must provide comparable coverage in terms of prescriptions and costs.

It has taken three years to craft a program that make sense. But, as Health Minister Ted Flemming points out, if it’s the right plan, it’s worth the wait.

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