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October 12, 2007

900,000 Families Could Lose Pharmacare Benefits

For the first time since the inception of Pharmacare over 30 years ago, BC families will be denied benefits unless they have registered with the province. According to a government news release, 900,000 families (over 40% of the population) have not registered for the program.

Even though you are enrolled with the Medical Services Plan, and even though you are eligible for hospital benefits, you will not receive benefits you would otherwise be entitled to under Pharmacare unless you have completed the Campbell government's paperwork authorizing them to access your income tax returns. Some people assume that the province automatically has a right to access tax returns, but under the federal-provincial tax collection agreement, the province cannot see your return unless you authorize it.

Until now the government allowed those with unexpected drug costs to enroll in "Fair Pharmacare" at the time they realized that they had sufficient drug costs for a claim. The complicated program is tied to family income and eligible drug expenses. For families with incomes over $30,000 per year, the program pays 70% of drug costs after the family pays the first 3% of its income ($900 or more in this case), and the program pays 100% of drug costs after the family incurs 4% of its income on eligible drug costs. In order to determine whether your family is eligible, the government requires that you authorize it to verify your income with the Canada Revenue Agency. Starting January 1, 2008, no payment will be made to any family that has not registered with the plan. Expenses incurred prior to registration will be counted towards the deductable, but no costs will be eligible for reimbursement unless they are incurred after the date of enrollment.

Why would the Campbell government penalize 900,000 BC families? What does the government have to gain by forcing 900,000 families to authorize access to their income tax returns when they don't expect to make a Pharmacare claim? The Campbell government expects to run a surplus of at least $1.6 billion this year; how much more does it expect to save by beating a few families out of their Pharmacare benefits because they got sick before they gave government the authority to look at their tax returns?

The government must have some idea of the difference in the demographics between the 1.3 million families who have registered for Pharmacare and the 900,000 who haven't. Are these just well-off families who are unlikely to qualify, or are they illiterate or English language challenged families who have difficulty understanding the government's paperwork and couldn't begin to master the online forms? What motivates this bizarre move? According to CKNW, Health Minister George Abbott said that it was always the intention to put Pharmacare on this basis. If that was the case, why did the Campbell government wait until now to unveil that secret?


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