On March 20, Premier Kathleen Wynne announced Ontario’s plan to make prescription drugs free for people 65 and over. Through an expansion of OHIP+, more than 4,400 prescription drugs will be available free of charge to everyone 65 and over under the proposed scheme, which would affect 2.6 million seniors and their families.
Although an election promise and dependant on the results of June’s vote, the plan would mean that, starting August 1, 2019, anyone aged 65 or older would no longer have to pay a deductible or co-payment, and would be able to present their eligible prescription and OHIP number at any Ontario pharmacy and receive their medication for free. According to the government’s statement announcing the plan, “by expanding OHIP+ to seniors in Budget 2018, people 65 and over will now save an average of $240 every year. Prescription drugs covered by this program include medications for cholesterol, hypertension, thyroid conditions, diabetes and asthma”.
Currently, everyone 65 and over is eligible for prescription drug coverage through the Ontario Drug Benefit (ODB) program, which requires seniors to pay deductibles and co-payments based on their income and other factors. Under the ODB, seniors are paying an average of $240 a year out of pocket for their medications. Seniors (65 years and older) are Ontario’s fastest-growing age group. By 2041, it is projected that 25% of Ontario’s population will be 65 years or older, almost doubling from 2016 to 4.6 million seniors.
In making the announcement, the Premier noted that: “The costs of health care can cause anxiety and stress, especially for people 65 and over who are living on fixed incomes and are often required to take multiple medications”. Of course, this anxiety and stress have been a fact of life for seniors for years. Dr. Helena Jaczek, Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, believes that: “Everybody in this province, no matter their age, deserves the chance to lead healthy, happy lives.”
This is a wonderful realisation to come to less than three months before a provincial election.