Liberals to extend OHIP+ to seniors. What took so long?

The planned expansion would remove co-payment and deductibles from more than 4,400 drugs

Ontario’s Liberal party wants to make prescription medication free under OHIP+ for people  65 and older. It’s about time.

On Jan. 1, the province implemented free prescriptions for Ontarians under 25. As someone who frequents pharmacies regularly, this was magnificent news. However, most individuals in this age group do not have dire medical issues that require prolonged treatment with prescription drugs.

Canada has an aging population. Statistics Canada reported that in 2016, there were 5.9 million seniors living in Ontario. They reported 5.8 million children 14 and under in that same period. This was the first time in Ontario’s history that seniors outnumbered children.

Many of these people live on a fixed income, retirement savings, or the Ontario Disability Support Plan. They are also more likely to have chronic medical issues such as arthritis, vision- and hearing-impairment, and heart problems.

The average Ontarian senior spends $240 a year on prescriptions. For a working individual, $240 is the cost of a decent seat at a Raptors game. For seniors, it can be a choice between treating their diabetes and buying groceries.

The OHIP+ expansion announced last week by Premier Kathleen Wynne would allow seniors to access more than 4,400 drugs without having to worry about deductibles and co-payments. The expansion is estimated to cost the province $575 million by 2020-21.

The expansion will allow seniors to manage their health responsibly and take their medications as required in correct dosage and frequency. This should make for fewer emergency hospital visits and delay the need for acute-care settings and nursing homes.

Although the expansion would be a life-changing move for seniors, NDP leader Andrea Horwath says it would still leave two million Ontarians without prescription coverage. However, hopefully this expansion is the first step to universal prescriptions for all Ontarians.

Nevertheless, CARP (formerly known as the Canadian Association for Retired Persons) says it’s a worthwhile investment, and I agree.

In a phone interview, Laura Tamblyn Watts, National Director of Law, Policy and Research at CARP, said, “It [OHIP+ expansion] ensures seniors never have to choose between paying rent and buying life-saving medication.”

Extended healthcare is a step toward a greater standard of living for our seniors.

And as Wynne said in her announcement, these are the same individuals who helped to build Ontario, and continue to do so through their taxes. Ensuring they have access to the medication they need is the least the province can do.

Still, the start date is August 2019, 18 months away, and the timing of the announcement may be a tactic to lure votes for the Liberals. If they lose the provincial election in June, free prescription coverage for seniors might never come to pass.