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British Columbians will be forced to shell out $400 million to pay for added costs of the Campbell governments new Pharmacare scheme, B.C. largest union charges, and that means drug bills will more than quadruple for seniors of modest means, and more than double for the average B.C. family with children.

Last week health minister Colin Hansen was mum on the extent of change, but leaders of the Canadian Union of Public Employees say theyve been able to dig up some of the details of the Liberals plan to drastically overhaul B.C.s prescription drug program. And theyre shocked by what will be the fallout from the bid to implement income testing to determine the degree of coverage.

This is an outrageous move that will hurt our elderly and families in communities right across the province, says Barry ONeill, president of CUPE B.C. It will put lifesaving drugs beyond the reach of many British Columbians, he charges.

For example, says Chris Allnutt, spokesperson for CUPEs health care division, the Hospital Employees Union, annual drug costs for a single elderly male (average income $28,394) could balloon to $1,136, an increase of $861. A single female (average income $24,000) faces a hike of as much as $685. And for a family with children (average combined income $71,000), costs could rise by more than $1,800.

Currently, Pharmacare benefits are based on universal deductibles of $275 for seniors and $1,000 for families. But Victoria wants those deductibles to increase to between three and four per cent of individual or family total income.

Few British Columbians will escape this latest Liberal effort to offload additional health care costs onto the backs of low and middle income people, says Allnutt.

Here are some of the other key features of the Liberals plan obtained by CUPE:
  • Between 40 and 50 income bands will be established, each with its own deductible amount;
  • every British Columbian will have to formally register to be eligible for Pharmacare benefits, and sign a legal waiver to give the Campbell government access to their personal tax information;
  • an agreement in principle has been signed with Canada Customs and Revenue Agency to facilitate Victorias access to confidential records;
  • those who fail to register will automatically be assigned the highest deductible level; and
  • the Campbell government is preparing a slick PR campaign that may include another round of television ads to try to minimize the political fallout from the changes.
According to Liberal government budget documents leaked in March, Pharmacare is targeted for cuts of $406 million, of which $395 million will come from reductions in benefits through the income testing scheme.

Its conceivable, says ONeill, that a senior making just over $16,000 a year will be hit by a huge increase in drug costs. However, weve been told that a maximum deductible level has been set so that the Liberals can cushion wealthier British Columbians from the impact of the change.

With millions of British Columbians required to sign formal documents to be eligible for coverage, Allnutt predicts that Victoria will need to establish a permanent registry to oversee the testing scheme. It will spawn a new and unnecessary bureaucracy and bloat administrative costs for Pharmacare, he says.

Meanwhile, the Liberals move away from universal coverage will also set off a tidal wave of costs pressures on existing pension and workplace benefit plans. Many of these plans, says ONeill, are struggling to deal with higher medical premium taxes imposed earlier this year, and have been forced to pass on higher costs to seniors and workers.

The move isnt about controlling rising drug costs, says Allnutt, Its about offloading responsibility for who pays. If Victoria truly wanted to contain drug costs then it would embark on an entirely different set of measures.

CUPEs plan for more progressive solutions includes:
  • a national pharmacare program;
  • changes to drug patent laws that are a source of huge profits for multinational drug companies;
  • an expansion of the former NDP governments reference-based pricing and bulk buying schemes; and
  • a serious effort to address the problem of over prescribing drugs especially for seniors.
This latest scheme is just the most recent in a series of moves by the Liberals in the last 11 months in which almost $1 billion in added health care costs and user fees have been offloaded onto the backs of British Columbians.

For more information, contact:

Ron Verzuh, CUPE 604-785-1422

Stephen Howard, HEU/CUPE 604-240-8524