Public Responds to - "Liepert''s strategic attack on Alberta seniors"

After reading this article in today's Edmonton Journal, I sent an email to Premier Stelmach asking him to respond to the charges levied against these changes.  I'll copy my email below. 
I also sent a letter to the Editor of the Journal showing support for this article.  I hope all of you will take the time to do something similar.  (Click on the link below to go directly to the editor of the Journal.)

Ed Stelmach
Premier of Alberta
cc  Ron Liepert, Minister Health & Wellness
cc  Fred Horne, MLA, Edmonton/Rutherford
cc  David Swann, Liberal Leader
cc  Brian Mason, NDP Leader
Dear Mr. Stelmach:
This will acknowledge receipt of your letter replying to my earlier emails concerning the proposed revisions to Health Care policy in Alberta as presently proposed by Minister Liepert. 
The reply to my various questions does not seem to address many of the issues I raised and I would like to direct your attention to a letter by Noel Somerville, Chairman of the Seniors Task Force of the advocacy group Public Interest Alberta. which appeared in today's Edmonton Journal.  I do not know Mr. Somerville, nor do I belong to this group of people, so please don't think that this letter is in anyway connected with that group.
However, I certainly agree with the points he has made in his well-written letter and I request a direct response from you on the comments he has made. 
Again, I must point out that I feel that Mr. Liepert, being the Minister responsible for this disastrous course of action, is biased in his approach and therefore not suitable to reply to any of the comments raised unless it was to say he is scrapping the entire strategy and will start again.
W. C. Whiteman
2419 - 113th St.
Edmonton, Alta.
T6J 4Y7          
[email protected]

Liepert's strategic attack on Alberta seniors
New health initiatives pave way for a Third Wave end run

By Noel Somerville, Freelance
March 23, 2009
Masquerading as a form of tax on the wealthy, Health Minister Ron Liepert's Pharmaceutical Strategy is actually a form of tax on the sick. Masquerading as "choice," his Continuing Care Strategy is really cutting seniors out of medicare when they are frail and sick.

What is the Pharmaceutical Strategy?

The Pharmaceutical Strategy was presented as a plan to give free prescription drugs to poor seniors by reducing the benefit to those who can afford it. But it is really a form of tax on middle-income seniors who are sick or chronically ill, and therefore in high need of prescription drugs. Most seniors are relatively healthy and don't spend anything like five per cent of their income on medications. The only ones who do are those suffering from chronic health conditions. When did it become acceptable public policy to put the heaviest burden on the sickest and frailest members of society?

A second major problem with the pharmaceutical strategy is that, for seniors only, supplementary health care coverage is indexed to income. Most Albertans carry supplementary healthcare insurance and pay a fixed rate for fixed coverage with a fixed deductible. Under the pharmaceutical strategy, what seniors will pay for the drugs they require will be a function of their income. I wonder how MLAs and most public-sector employees, whose premiums are covered, at least in part, from the public purse, would react if their supplementary health insurance kicked in only after they had spent five per cent of the first $150,000 of their remuneration on prescription drugs?

A third major problem is that income disparity is already adjusted through the taxation system. It is a form of double jeopardy to address income differentials again through the health-care system. Several years ago, Alberta adopted a maximum 10-per-cent flat-tax system: Regardless of our income, we would not be taxed more than 10 per cent of our taxable income.


Now, however, it seems Minister Liepert thinks it is acceptable to require seniors to also lay out up to five per cent of their gross income as a deductible on their prescription-drug coverage. Even though that money isn't paid to the government, it is a form of tax because it is paid to reduce government expenditures.
A fourth major issue for many seniors is the invasion of privacy implicit in a scheme requiring confidential financial information to be made available to pharmacists, so they know when the deductible has been reached, and to insurance companies, so they know the magnitude of the risk they are assuming. The program will be a nightmare to administer for the government, for the insurance industry and for pharmacists.

There are many other flaws in Mr. Liepert's pharmaceutical strategy:

- It has blindsided seniors who carefully planned for their retirement on the assumption that the long-standing, universal Blue Cross for Seniors plan would be available to them.

- It comes at a time when many seniors have seen the book value of their retirement nest egg shrink by 40 per cent or more.

- It makes mockery of the principle of universality and is so unfair that it is difficult to rationalize as anything other than blatant ageism.

British Columbia has tried a form of income-based deductibles for prescription drugs and, while it was successful in reducing government expenditures on medications, it has not reduced health-care expenditures. Medications are a form of preventive medicine, and when financial barriers prevent people from getting the medications they require, more of them end up in hospital.

None of these shortcomings of the pharmaceutical strategy will be addressed by simply adjusting the income thresholds upwards, as recently suggested by the Minister of Health and Wellness.


Like the pharmaceutical policy, the Continuing Care Strategy also puts the heaviest burden on seniors who are the sickest and frailest -- those who have been medically assessed as requiring long-term (nursing home) care. They are adversely affected in two ways.

First, they are affected by the strategy's declaration that the number of long-term care beds will be frozen at the current level of 14,500 for several years. Not only does this fly in the face of Premier Stelmach's undertaking during the last provincial election to provide 600 new long-term care (LTC) beds, it makes no sense in light of the fact that Alberta currently has about 1,500 seniors medically assessed as urgently requiring LTC placement. About half of those 1,500 are actually waiting in acute-care hospital beds that Minister Liepert, himself, concedes cost thousands of dollars a day compared to hundreds of dollars a day in a continuing care facility.

As Dr. Felix Soibelman, president of the Edmonton Emergency Physicians' Association, has recently pointed out, the lack of progress in reducing emergency room wait times is due, in part, to the number of seniors who are either on hard foam stretchers in the emergency department or in acute-care hospital beds because they are awaiting placement in long-term care homes.

A second major blow for frail seniors is the strategy's revelation that the government no longer intends to regulate the accommodation charges in LTC facilities in order to open the LTC market to private, for-profit operators. The accommodation charges in LTC facilities are currently the only rates set by government anywhere in the continuing care system.

When seniors are assessed as requiring LTC placement, it means that they have extremely high nursing and personal care needs. Typically, they need help getting out of bed, toileting, bathing, dressing, getting to the dining room and eating when there. They require that care just as urgently as the victim of cardiac arrest may require bypass surgery. Accordingly, it is unconscionable that such individuals should be turned over to the tender mercies of the free market and charged market rates not only for the accommodation but also for the care that they require.

All of this calls into question Premier Stelmach's statement when he took office that "the Third Way is DOA." A key element of the Third Way is the delisting of previously covered services and it looks like Minister Liepert intends to delist much of the continuing care system for all but the most impoverished of Alberta seniors. Frail seniors are in no position to fight government and it is up to the rest of us to protect them.

Noel Somerville is the chairman of the seniors task force of the advocacy group Public Interest Alberta

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