Blog | January 17, 2014

Seniors occupied health minister’s office as protest over drug plan

By Mariam Ibrahim, Edmonton JournalEDMONTON - A group of seniors angry about proposed changes to their provincially-run drug plan that had occupied Health Minister Fred Horne's constituency office were removed by police late Thursday night.One of the protest organizers, Bill Moore-Kilgannon of Public Interest Alberta Tweeted, "We just got kicked out of Fred Horne's office by police. Back tomorrow morning for media conference at 10."Seniors involved in the protest say they will issue a statement at 10 a.m. outside Horne's constituency office.The protesters have been promised a meeting with Horne, but they say they want hear from Premier Alison Redford, who is in India.About two dozen seniors from Public Interest Alberta’s senior task force took over Horne’s office shortly after 10 a.m. Thursday, angry over the province’s Pharmacare Initiative, which would introduce one income-based drug plan. Under the current drug plan, most seniors pay 30 per cent of the cost of each prescription, to a maximum of $25, regardless of income.Noel Somerville, chairman of Public Interest Alberta’s Senior’s Task Force, said many of the seniors organizations represented on the task force had been clamouring for a meeting with Horne to talk about the impending changes but were frustrated by a lack of response.Instead they descended upon Horne’s office, at 308 Saddleback Road, where they sipped coffee, chatted and were treated to the occasional tune by the Raging Grannies.Shortly after the sit-in started Thursday, Horne’s office offered the group a meeting in early February.“It’s regrettable a letter hadn’t gone out sooner. We acknowledge that,” said Matthew Grant, Horne’s press secretary.The pharmacare plan was introduced in last year’s March budget, but few other details have been released since. The province has said the changes would save the government $180 million.“When the government saves itself $180 million, what it’s really doing is transferring those costs,” Somerville said. “Those are not costs on seniors in general, they are costs on people who have a high need for prescription drugs. We’re talking about people who are sick, who are frail and who have chronic diseases.”The new plan was supposed to come into effect Jan. 1, but last fall Horne said that would be delayed to later in 2014 because he needed more time to consult with affected groups, including seniors and insurance companies.Grant said Horne and department staff continue to review input they’ve received, including a package of information from Public Interest Alberta.“I think there are a variety of views on pharmacare from a variety of people…based on the input we receive across the board, that will certainly affect the discussions going forward.”Somerville said the group planned on staying put in Horne’s office until they hear from Redford, too.“The policy we’re concerned with is a policy of the Redford government, and we want the premier involved,” he said.mibrahim@edmontonjournal.comtwitter.com/mariamdenaRead the article online at the Edmonton Journal