Edmonton - Minister Fred Horne's response issued today to the seniors and advocacy groups who comprise the Seniors' task force of Public Interest Alberta is a series of vague and disingenuous claims.
The Minister's statement, "the government is cutting seniors benefits, are inaccurate. I would like to correct the record. At no time have we indicated we would cut benefits, and to suggest so is misleading," is clearly erroneous to anyone who has been following this story in the media since the plan was announced in the 2013 - 14 provincial budget.
The government has consistently stated that they will save $180 million with their new pharmacare program and he has been quoted in the media and legislature talking about using an income-based system similar to the one in British Columbia.
"If the Redford government is getting rid of the current universal seniors drug plan and replacing it with an income-based system, where seniors above a yet to be announced low-income threshold are expected to pay 100% of the cost of their drugs, then that can only be described as a cut in seniors benefits," says Noel Somerville, Chairperson of Public Interest Alberta's Seniors' Task Force. "If, as the Minister states, 'this initiative is not to cut benefits or costs as has been suggested' then why does the provincial budget say 'the new PharmaCare program is expected to generate $45 million in savings in 2013-14 and annual savings of $180 million beginning in 2014-15'?"
The Minister needs to explain:
* What will need to be cut to save $180 million when the population of seniors is growing and the price of drugs is increasing?
* Who will not be covered in order to make these savings a reality?
* What drugs will be covered and will the list of available drugs under the pharmacare plan be cut further?
The Minister also states that "a number of stakeholder groups contacted my ministry and MLA colleagues requesting that more time be allocated for consultation prior to implementing a new plan." He also claims that a consultation is already going on, yet has never announced how the public or seniors groups can participate in the consultation.
The Minister needs to explain:
* Who is it that approached him to ask for more time to implement the new drug plan?
* How can he claim that they are holding consultations when they have never clarified the exact thresholds and details of the plan?
* If they have been consulting behind closed doors with industry and other groups, who have they been consulting and when have these meetings taken place?
"We know the lobby group for the insurance industry has communicated with him and said they would not be able to implement any changes within twelve to eighteen months, so we wonder if this is who the Minister is referring to when he says people have asked for the new plan to be delayed," asks Sandra Azocar, Executive Director of Friends of Medicare. "The Minister needs to say who else he is listening to because it is certainly not the seniors of Alberta."
"We are pleased that the Minister agreed to meet with the PIA Seniors' Task Force on February 13th, but his statement today misses the point that Premier Redford made very clear and specific undertakings to various seniors groups when she was running for the leadership of the PC Party," says Bill Moore-Kilgannon, Executive Director of Public Interest Alberta. "The sit-in would have ended much earlier in the day if the Premier's office agreed to a simple request to meet with the seniors groups. It is frustrating that seniors' groups have to resort to sitting in an office in order to get a simple response to a letter sent last September followed by numerous phone calls asking for a meeting."