National pharmacare program could save $7.3 billion

National pharmacare program could save $7.3 billion: study

A CMAJ study touted as a ‘game changer’ shows universal drug coverage could reduce total spending on drugs in Canada by $7.3 billion.

Dr. Danielle Martin, vice-president of Women's College Hospital, co-authored a study on financing pharmacare. "This analysis is a game changer. It says to governments that you can do this without having to increase taxes by a single penny."

Dr. Danielle Martin, vice-president of Women’s College Hospital, co-authored a study on financing pharmacare. “This analysis is a game changer. It says to governments that you can do this without having to increase taxes by a single penny.”

The call for a national pharmacare program has just grown louder with a new study showing it could reduce public and private spending on prescription drugs by $7.3 billion annually.

A paper published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal pokes holes in the argument that a national program would result in substantial tax increases.

A long-time barrier to the implementation of universal prescription drug coverage in Canada has been the assumption that it would require tax increases, said Dr. Danielle Martin, one of the authors.

“This analysis is a game changer. It says to governments that you can do this without having to increase taxes by a single penny, and that changes the whole conversation,” said Martin, who is also a vice president at Women’s College Hospital and an assistant professor in the departments of family and community medicine and health policy, management and evaluation at the University of Toronto.

Savings would be achieved through lower costs for generic- and brand-name drugs because of economies of scale in price negotiations and better product selection, according to the paper.

The study shows that, in a best-case scenario, universal public drug coverage would actually save taxpayers $2.9 billion annually; under the worst-case scenario, it would cost them $5.4 billion. The most realistic outcome — the base-case scenario — would see an annual cost to taxpayers of $1 billion.

The study did not take into account additional savings to the health system that would be achieved when those who cannot afford to fill prescriptions start taking medications. Nor did it take into account savings that would be derived through the more appropriate prescribing that a national system would be expected to promote.

A pharmacare program would be a boon to private-sector drug plans, according to the study. In a best-case scenario, the private sector would save $9.6 billion annually; in a worst-case scenario, it would save $6.6 billion. The base-case scenario, or most likely outcome, would see annual savings of $8.2 billion.

The question of whether Canada should have a pharmacare program is shaping up to be an issue in the upcoming federal election. Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins recently called on Ottawa to join the provinces and territories in providing a national pharmacare program.

The push for a national program dates back to 1964, when it was recommended by the Royal Commission on Health Services.

Lead author Steven Morgan points out that, except for Canada, every developed country with a universal health care system also has universal coverage of prescription drugs. Those countries include the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden.

“It is absolutely unbelievable, given the amount of national pride Canadians have in our medicare system, that we would be such conspicuous outliers on pharmacare,” said Morgan, professor of health policy at the University of British Columbia School of Population and Public Health.

About one in 10 Canadians report they cannot afford to take their medications as prescribed.

Prescription drugs are currently funded by a patchwork of public and private programs. Provincial drug plans, which cover certain populations such as the elderly and people on social assistance, along with private insurance plans, each account for 36 per cent of prescription costs in Canada. Out-of-pocket payments by patients account for 22 per cent; compulsory social insurance polices, such as workers’ compensation, cover 4 per cent; and federal drug plans that cover First Nations and other targeted populations account for 2 per cent.

Canadians spent just over $22 billion on drugs in 2012-13. Under a national pharmacare plan, spending would drop by 32 per cent, to $15.1 billion — for a savings of about $7.3 billion under a base-scenario estimate, according to the paper.

6,000 seniors removed from province’s drug plan

Income threshold lowered in the budget, saving province $3M

CBC News Posted: Mar 18, 2015 12:35 PM CT Last Updated: Mar 18, 2015 5:46 PM CT

Six thousand seniors will become ineligible for discounted prescriptions because the income threshold for the senior's drug plan is being lowered.

Six thousand seniors will become ineligible for discounted prescriptions because the income threshold for the senior’s drug plan is being lowered. (Getty Images/Darren McCollester)

A belt-tightening measure in the 2015-16 Saskatchewan budget will lower the income threshold for the senior’ drug plan.

It will mean 6,000 Saskatchewan seniors will no longer qualify for discounted prescriptions.

People eligible for the drug plan pay a maximum of $20 per prescription for drugs listed on the province’s formulary.

Previously, the province used the federal threshold of $80,255 as the cutoff for the drug plan. Anyone with a taxable income in excess of that amount was not eligible for the program.

Now, the threshold will be lowered to $65,515.

The change is being met with criticism, even from seniors who say they will not be affected.

“It actually should be going the other way,” Gloria Stanton said of the threshold. “We’re losing money every time we go to the store, every time we got to the restaurant, every time we go shopping. Everything is costing that much more.”

Stanton suggests a cutoff of around $90,000.

Another senior, Norma Friske, said she was looking for measures to assist the elderly in the budget.

“We’re in the lower level and we need help,” Friske said. “If they’re going to lower anything how about raising a little
for the seniors? Because we’re the ones who put this country on the map, that is a wonderful country. But the seniors need help.”

Finance Minister Ken Krawetz released the budget for the fiscal year that begins April 1 on Wednesday.

Seniors strategy should include more public washrooms

Seniors strategy should include more public washrooms, meeting hears

Kanata North Coun. Marianne Wilkinson.
Kanata North Coun. Marianne Wilkinson.

Ottawa Citizen


Access to more public washrooms in parks and transit stations should be included in the city’s updated seniors strategy, officials said Wednesday during a day-long planning session at Ottawa City Hall.

For months, the citizen-led GottaGo! campaign has been calling for the creation of a network of clean, safe and accessible public toilets. The group wants existing toilets fixed up with better signage and longer hours, and also wants to see toilets and water fountains installed in new light-rail transit stations along the Confederation Line.

But the GottaGo! campaigners don’t appear to be the only ones.

Seniors themselves say barriers such as inaccessible washrooms in city buildings and a lack of “age-friendly features” in parks can discourage some from leaving their homes.

Bay ward Coun. Mark Taylor says the issue is on the city’s radar.

“It’s clearly a need that emerged. Probably something we all knew existed for a long time,” he said, adding the challenge now is to figure out the path forward.

Adding washrooms to city-owned spaces are “easy wins,” Taylor said, but transit stations are more complicated because they would need to be built into the financial model. Cleanliness and security are also concerns.

“I think there are plenty of opportunities. We’re just going to have to plan out how and where we execute them,” he said.

Reopening the LRT contract with the Rideau Transit Group to add washrooms at Bayview and Hurdman — which are the farthest from any public-access toilets — could cost as much as $3 million, the city said, noting the figure was a rough estimate only.

There are washrooms planned for Tunney’s and Blair stations — located at either end of the line.

Kanata North Coun. Marianne Wilkinson said washrooms and benches are vital if seniors are to use parks regularly, as many would like to.

“We’ve put a johnny-on-the-spot on some of our playing fields so that the children who are playing soccer can go to the washroom. We should be looking at that for the seniors as well,” she said.

Wilkinson said she’d like the city to launch a pilot study in a few parks to see how it goes.

Wednesday’s meeting — which included a morning session inside council chambers and breakout discussions in the afternoon — was designed to look at the successes of the city’s Older Adult Plan, which was approved in 2012 and now needs to be refreshed for this term of council.

There were more than 115,000 seniors (65 and over) living in Ottawa, according to the 2011 census. That’s about 13 per cent of the population, but that number is expected to rise steadily in the coming years. By 2031, more than one in five Ottawa residents will be over the age of 65, the city says.

Some of the key achievements so far include:

  • Retrofitting 18 city facilities with additional automatic door openers and washroom grab bars
  • Installing additional pedestrian signal technology at 12 intersections
  • Buying and/or installing 34 new benches in areas of the city with high concentrations of seniors

The city released details of the plan late Wednesday:


BC seniors have major stake in transit referendum

Seniors have major stake in transit referendum: Access to transportation a key factor for health, wellbeing

March 17th, 2015 · · No Comments · Seniors, Taxes

By Shannon Daub, Co-Director of the CCPA-BC’s Seniors Project, and
Sandra (Sandy) James LEED AP MCIP CCPI, Director, Walk Metro Vancouver Society

Between now and May, residents of Metro Vancouver will receive a mail-in ballot asking if they are in favour of a .5 percentage point increase on sales tax to fund transportation improvements in the region. Officially called the Congestion Improvement Tax (CIT), the revenue from this sales tax increase will fund public transit and transportation infrastructure and enhance levels of transit services.

Here is how the outcome of the Transportation Referendum will impact seniors, and why we believe a “Yes” vote will enhance seniors’ accessibility and livability in Metro Vancouver.

1. Lack of access to transportation is one of the major challenges people face as they age, and that has been identified by the United Way of the Lower Mainland [1] and BC’s Seniors Advocate [2] as a key factor contributing to seniors’ isolation and ill health.

2. If seniors become housebound, they are less likely to eat well, get regular exercise or get to medical appointments, and are more likely to become socially isolated from friends, family and the wider community. Research shows [3] that social connectedness is a key determinant of seniors’ health, slowing cognitive decline, the onset of dementia, and the progress of disability. Active, healthy seniors are also less likely to require more expensive health services like physician and hospital care.

3. Public transit is an issue that calls for intergenerational solidarity. Thehighest users of transit [4] in Metro Vancouver include those aged 18-29 and those aged 70-plus. Students and young people  need  dependable access to the more frequent and convenient services the transit plan proposes so they can get to school and work efficiently and safely. For the growing population of seniors who are living longer and independently, transit accessibility, comfort and convenience is paramount.

4. For vulnerable seniors—those with low incomes, recent immigrants, those with chronic health problems, and the frail elderly—a “yes” vote is especially critical. A “yes” vote  will result in a thirty per cent increase in HandyDart rides, a twenty-five per cent increase in bus services, and a twenty per cent decrease of congestion on the roads. A twenty per cent decrease in traffic means that emergency vehicles will be able to get people in crisis to hospitals much faster. The proposed transit improvements will also benefit outlying areas that are currently underserved and where there are high concentrations of older adults with low average incomes—including Surrey, Langley, and Maple Ridge—and areas with high concentrations of recent immigrant seniors[5].

5. This referendum is not about a vote for or against Translink, the regional transportation authority, but is a vote for an overall  strategic transportation plan to ensure regional accessibility and livability in the next thirty years. Funding will provide for transportation infrastructure (roads, traffic lights, light rail transit lines and trains) as well as services. Access, shelters, benches and lighting will be improved at bus stops, facilitating easier travel. As part of complete healthy communities, making the experience to and from transit use ensures seniors can engage in the community, stay active by walking, and continue being mobile throughout the city.

6. Metro Vancouver and its citizens have a major choice to make regarding how people will move around the region in the next thirty years. Voting “yes” on the referendum will benefit everyone, including seniors. With less vehicles and more transit, the region will be more accessible to all, with reduced pollution and less congested roads. It is a positive legacy for the next generation of people living in Metro Vancouver.

HandyDart bus


[1] United Way Seniors Vulnerability Report. United Way of the Lower Mainland. 2011.

[2] The Journey Begins: Together We Can Do Better. Office of the BC Seniors Advocate. October 2014.

[3] The Links Between Social Support and Improved Health Outcomes. Jolene Lansdowne. Vancouver Coastal Health. 2011.

[4] Transportation and Health in Metro Vancouver. My Health, My Community (Vancouver Coastal Health, Fraser Health, eHealth Strategy Office at the University of British Columbia). 2015.

[5] Figure 18 p. 39 and figure 3 p. 16 in: United Way Seniors Vulnerability Report. United Way of the Lower Mainland. 2011.


Manitoba pledges to install fire sprinklers in all hospitals, care homes by 2025

CBC News Posted: Mar 17, 2015 11:20 AM CT Last Updated: Mar 17, 2015 12:11 PM CT

Manitoba Labour Minster Erna Braun, left, and Health Minister Sharon Blady speak to reporters about the fire safety task force report on Tuesday in Winnipeg.

Manitoba Labour Minster Erna Braun, left, and Health Minister Sharon Blady speak to reporters about the fire safety task force report on Tuesday in Winnipeg. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The Manitoba government is promising to install fire sprinklers in all its hospitals, personal care homes and group home by 2025, with some of the work already starting this year.

Existing facilities that do not have sprinklers already will be retrofitted, the province announced Tuesday.

The upgrades are recommended in a provincial task force report that was prompted by a fatal fire at a seniors home in L’Isle-Verte, Que., in January 2014.

The sprinklers are expected to cost $125 million, but the government has only budgeted $70 million so far.

Erna Braun, the minister responsible for the Office of the Fire Commissioner, says the province will find the money in the budget.

Last year, CBC News found that more than half of the licensed personal care homes in Manitoba did not have full sprinkler systems installed. The majority of those homes were in rural communities.

As well, about one-third of hospitals in the province had no sprinkler systems.

Currently, 63 personal care homes in Manitoba have full sprinkler systems, while 25 have partial systems and 37 have none, a provincial government spokesperson said Tuesday.

As for hospitals, 27 have full sprinkler systems, 27 have partial systems and 22 have none.

The task force’s report makes six recommendations:

  • Make sprinklers mandatory in new residential care facilities for children and adults.
  • Make sprinklers mandatory in all existing treatment and care facilities.
  • Make additional training available to local authorities.
  • Ensure that local fire inspectors adopt a consistent approach to fire safety inspections.
  • Raise public awareness about the importance of fire safety.
  • Provide additional resources to the Office of the Fire Commissioner and local fire authorities to support fire protection planning, inspections and reporting.

The province says a $7-million project is already underway to install sprinklers in five personal care homes and one hospital this year. Another 18 facilities will get “other fire and life-safety improvements” this year, the government said in a news release.

Fire sprinkler

Last year, CBC News found that more than half of the licensed personal care homes in Manitoba did not have full sprinkler systems installed. The majority of those homes were in rural communities. (CBC)

​The province says it will spend another $2 million to have fire safety experts assess all of Manitoba’s 125 personal care homes and 62 hospitals to “develop a comprehensive inventory of fire and life-safety systems and a 10-year plan for prioritizing facility upgrades.”

The government spokesperson said a full sprinkler system has been installed in a personal care home in Swan River, and plans are in the works for a facility in Flin Flon.

Sprinklers are also being installed at the hospital and personal care home in Eriksdale, at care homes in Birtle and Steinbach, and at the following health-care facilities:

  • Snow Lake Health Centre — Installation of a sprinkler system.
  • Steinbach – Bethesda Hospital — Completion of the sprinkler system.
  • Victoria General Hospital — Phased installation of a sprinkler system.
  • Altona Health Centre — Replacing the dry sprinkler system piping.
  • Shoal Lake Health Centre — Replacing the dry sprinkler system piping.

You can read the fire safety task force’s report below

Read the report here.

October 1 Seniors Vote initiative is on the march

The second meeting of the initiative now called Seniors Vote, made up of many of the country’s seniors organizations, was held on March 5 in Toronto at the CARP head office. The initiative, started by CURC and its executive director Pat Kerwin, aims to hold a series of rallies in cities across Canada on October 1, 2015 which is the UN International Day of Older Persons and also a pre budget seniors’ intervention. Both actions will highlight key seniors’ issues in the run up to the next federal election, to be held in October. CAUS participated in the meeting and John Anderson presented a paper on seniors’ housing issues which is available on this site. The other major issues, which will be highlighted, are income, health and inequality. More information will be posted here as we go forward.  If your organization would like to participate or if you would like to help organize an October 1 event in your community, please contact us.

CAUS attends Ottawa consultation on new Ontario Retirement Pension Plan

On February 10, the Ontario government with Minister Mitzie Hunter in the chair, held in Ottawa, one of the many consultations on the new Ontario Retirement Pension Plan which is to begin in 2017.  The 40 or so participants included representatives from community organizations, labour, business, disability groups and CAUS. The overwhelming opinion from the floor was positive in encouraging the government to go ahead. While only two voices from the business community opposed the plan, many who supported it wanted a stronger plan with compulsory enrollment of all employees whether they had a workplace plan or not. Many pointed out that many of the existing pension plans were very weak and that many of these employees could use another pension boost.

New report calls for homecare reform in Ontario

Click to access home-care-the-care-we-need-report-final.pdf

Here is a excerpt from the report from the Ontario Health Coalition.

The Care We Need

A new Medicare was established when hospitals
cared for the ill and homecare for the frail. This
has changed dramatically over the last thirty
years, with much more clinical care provided at
home as well as a growing number of frail
elderly and the disabled requiring support at
home. At the same time, the commitment of
Canadians to the right to health care based on
need rather than income has not declined.
Indeed, support for this value has grown. To
modernize the system we need to recognize
the principles of the Canada Health Act and
apply them to the full range of services that
people need.
For more than two decades, Ontario
governments have pursued policies centred on
cutting hospitals. At the same time,
governments have failed to create and enforce
clear standards for accessible home care as
patients are moved to the community. In
effect, the continual failure to establish a clear
right to access medically necessary home care
amounts to an erosion in the scope of our
public health coverage. Today, the
patients find their ability to access
publicly-funded care in community
settings to be severely rationed,
poorly organized and subject to
user fees.
Ontario’s home care system is
struggling; unable to meet the
burden of the downloaded patients
from hospitals with ever more
complex needs for post-acute care
and rehabilitation, and, at the same
time, provide a wider array of
services to support longer-term care
at home for the elderly and persons
with disabilities and chronic
illnesses. ….

Demand for affordable seniors housing outstrips supply in St. John’s

Need for seniors housing will keep growing: report
DanielDaniel MacEachernPublished on March 05, 2015

Demand for affordable seniors housing outstrips supply and the problem will likely get worse, according to a report from St. John’s and the province.

The seniors housing research project grew out of a survey in 2012 that identified housing as seniors’ top concern, and last year St. John’s city council set a goal of creating 500 homes with funding partners by 2017, a fifth of those “age-friendly” homes.


St. John’s rejects rezoning for Goulds seniors housing project

St. John’s gives go-ahead for new seniors apartments

“We’re going to have about 28 per cent of our city being over the age of 60 in 2035. That’s a big chunk that are going to be living on a very fixed income,” said Coun. Bernard Davis, chairman of the city’s community services and housing committee, which reviewed the report at a meeting in late February.

Davis added the study found the average income of seniors in the city is $24,540.

“That’s not a lot to find accommodations in the city, that historically has a very high cost to find housing.”

Davis says the report’s recommendations “dovetail very nicely” with the plan the city approved last year, such as forming public-private partnerships for developments to make them affordable, including smaller units for seniors looking to downgrade from larger homes after children have moved out.

“Let’s call a spade a spade: seniors want to age at home,” he said. “If there’s a way for them to do that and afford to stay in their home, they would prefer that. They also prefer seniors-only housing.”

The city hopes to appeal to developers by making a business case to developers by noting that 75 per cent of available residential land is zoned for single-family homes.

“There’s a target market there for this aging demographic that is going to need affordable housing, and not just a little bit. There’s going to be a lot of it required,” he said. “So building more affordable options for seniors is a key piece.”

By the numbers

• 20 — percentage of St. John’s population above the age of 60 today

• 28 — percentage of population forecast to be older than 60 in 2035

• 75 — percentage of land zoned for single-family homes

• $24,450 — average income of seniors in St. John’s

Alberta to mandate sprinklers in all seniors’ homes within 3 years

Seniors minister vows to install sprinkler systems in all seniors lodges and long-term care spaces

More from Darcy Henton, Calgary Herald
Published on: March 10, 2015
Last Updated: March 10, 2015 4:51 PM MDT

Seniors Minister Jeff Johnson announced approved fire system upgrade projects in seniors residences during a news conference at Hardisty Care Centre in Edmonton on March 10, 2015.
Seniors Minister Jeff Johnson announced approved fire system upgrade projects in seniors residences during a news conference at Hardisty Care Centre in Edmonton on March 10, 2015.

All seniors lodges and long-term care facilities will be upgraded with fire suppression sprinklers through an $80-million program over the next three years, Seniors Minister Jeff Johnson said Tuesday.

Johnson said the Progressive Conservative government boosted funding for the retrofit by $10 million to tackle all of the facilities in the province after announcing a $70-million first phase of the program last October.

“We want to get rolling on this immediately,” Johnson told seniors and seniors housing officials at the Hardisty Care Centre in east Edmonton.

The money allocated from the province’s social housing fund will pay for upgrades in 6,500 units in 105 facilities around the province.

The first priority will be given to facilities housing seniors with mobility issues and those served by volunteer fire departments in rural areas, Johnson said.

The minister said he hopes to announce additional money to pay for the installation of fire suppression sprinklers in seniors’ assisted-living complexes in the near future.

Most of the province’s 24,000 seniors housing units aren’t fully equipped with fire suppression sprinkler systems because they weren’t required under the building code until 1990.

Ministry documents obtained under freedom of information legislation reveal that 455 of the province’s 657 seniors facilities are not fully equipped with sprinkler suppression systems.

Several provinces, including Ontario and Quebec moved to make sprinkler systems mandatory in seniors facilities after a fire at a nursing home in Quebec last year killed 32 seniors.

Sprinklers installed in the living units of seniors facilities suppress fires and give seniors with mobility issues more time to evacuate.

Joe Patterson, 79, whose wife has been residing in the 48-year old Hardisty Care Centre for four years, applauded the announcement.

“This is an old building and if you got a fire in it … it would go up in no time,” he said. “It’s a very good idea. It should have been done years ago.”

But NDP critic David Eggen pointed out that five months have passed since the government set aside funds for the sprinkler program, and so far not one has been installed.

Eggen said “for the sake of safety,” he wished the Tories had started installing sprinkler systems when they first announced the program in October.

“Considering the tragedy that happened in Quebec … we know that it’s incumbent on all of us to act in the most expeditious way,” he said. “Let’s not forget this announcement now will cover only about half of the facilities that require retrofitting.”

Johnson said it was important to survey the facility operators to determine their needs in order to plan for the upgrades.

“We want to be thoughtful about how we’re going to do this,” he said. “We could have been rash and just thrown money out the door. It might have cost us three times as much and we might not have had the impact that we really want to have.”

Johnson also rejected calls to make sprinkler systems mandatory, saying most of the buildings constructed before 1990 are owned or operated by the province anyway and it’s the government’s responsibility to upgrade the fire suppression systems.

Doug Mills, president of Alberta Senior Citizens Housing Association, said he was pleased the government was tackling all long-term care facilities and seniors lodges immediately.

“This has been a fruitful, collaborative effort,” he said.

John Pray of the Alberta Continuing Care Association said he appreciated the government is proceeding with the sprinkler program despite the fiscal crisis triggered by the collapse of oil prices.

“I think today’s announcement is just the start,” he said.