Ontario’s wealthiest senior citizens could be paying hundreds of dollars more out of pocket for prescription drugs every year under the Liberal government’s proposed budget.
Most seniors across the province currently have a co-pay of $6.11 per prescription with a $100 yearly deductible.
The co-pay would remain stable under the plan, which was released Thursday, but the deductible could increase considerably for individual seniors with incomes over $100,000, or family incomes of more than $160,000.
Seniors in those categories would see their deductible rise by an amount equivalent to 3 per cent of their income over the thresholds, according to government officials who briefed reporters on the budget.
For example, the deductible for a single senior citizen with an income of $120,000 would jump to $700, an increase of $600, or 3 per cent of $20,000.
How much revenue the initiative would generate for the cash-strapped province has yet to be calculated, the officials said, but it is anticipated that the increase would affect 5 per cent of the senior population. The initiative is slated to take effect in August of 2014.
Health Minister Deb Matthews cast the increase as essential to sustaining universal health care and said the majority of affluent seniors are prepared to shoulder the burden.
“I think it absolutely is fair ask of them,” Ms. Matthews said, adding later, “I think people at the very high end are prepared to pay a little more when it comes to prescription drugs.”
The proposed budget calls for health-related spending to rise by nearly $1.1-billion across the board to $48.9-billion, an increase of 2.3 per cent.
A notable pledge in the budget from a policy standpoint, if not a fiscal one, is the introduction of legislation to ban youths under the age of 18 from tanning salons. The move follows the lead of several provinces and states that have enacted similar measures.
About a quarter of the new spending – $260-million – is allocated toward a continuing Ministry of Health and Long-term Care effort to beef up home and community-care services to keep the elderly out of hospitals.
To that end, the government proposes reducing waiting times for home care and nursing services by “targeting” patients to receive the help they need within five days of being assessed by Community Care Access Centres.
Under the budget, overall funding for home and community care services would increase by more than $700-million by 2016.
The investment tops fiscal commitments to that sector of health care made by the province last year, and serves to assuage New Democrats who demanded increased funding in that area and on whose support adoption of the budget depends.
Citing the home-care investment in remarks to reporters, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the budget reflected her party’s proposals but fell short on ironclad promises.
“We don’t see a five-day home-care guarantee,” Ms. Horwath said, adding later, “When we talk about a target, all of a sudden it becomes very wishy-washy.”
Also of note in the spending plan is the opening of two “birth centres” in Toronto and Ottawa to be led by midwives.
The centres, expected to open this summer, are designed to offer expectant mothers with low-risk pregnancies more choice in where to deliver their babies. The budget anticipates the centres will accommodate 1,000 births.
Government officials could not immediately offer specifics on how many people the centres would employ, but pegged the annual operational costs for the centres at $12.5-million.