By Dave Mabell, Lethbridge HeraldPlanned cuts to Alberta’s pharmacy coverage will hurt seniors across the province. And the oldest and most frail could be hit the hardest, a Lethbridge audience was warned Monday.Bill Moore-Kilgannon, executive director of Public Interest Alberta, said the $180-million cutback was announced by the Conservative government last spring. It was to take effect on Jan. 1, when Alberta seniors’ pharmacy plan would be abolished.But Albertans haven’t been given full details of the clawback, and now he says the insurance industry – after seeing those details – has told the government it can’t implement extensive changes that quickly.“The insurance lobby has said it will take 12 to 18 months to implement.”Meanwhile, seniors don’t know what they’ll be forced to pay – or even if they can afford it.“Even the Americans have pharmacare as part of their seniors’ health plan,” pointed out Noel Somerville, chair of the seniors’ task force formed to examine the changes. Seniors in the U.S. are not forced to choose between food or the medications needed to maintain their health.Somerville also took aim at the government’s “first available bed” policy for seniors needing residential care – which has placed aging people 100 km or more from the family and friends in rural Alberta.During her election campaign, he reminded listeners, Premier Redford promised 1,000 new long-term care spaces per year, for five years. She has failed to deliver.Sandra Azocar, executive director for Friends of Medicare, said the Redford government predicted the $180-million cut would somehow make medications more readily available to others.In reality, she said it will mean more front-end costs for everyone who needs a medication. “And the sicker you are, the more you will have to pay.”That’s how the Conservatives have treated seniors previously, she noted. Those who are no longer able to live in a seniors’ lodge must pay extra for nursing care and other services when they move to an assisted living facility. Only the most frail may be admitted to a publicly funded nursing home, where Canadian egislation says they’re entitled to daily medical attention and prescription drugs.But nursing care spaces have been cut in Lethbridge and across the province, she said. Though the population is growing – and greying – she said there are now fewer spaces than in 1999.Canadians already pay 30 per cent more for their medications than in other developed nations, PIA asserts in its newly released position paper on pharmacare. It says that could be recovered by including medication in the nation’s single-payer medicare system – as in most other Western nations.“Pharmaceuticals are a crucial and integral part of health care and, if we believe in the core principle of Canada’s health-care system – that health care should be provided on the basis of need rather than on ability to pay – then the provision of prescription drugs should be an integral part of our health-care system.”Friends of Medicare, the Parkland Institute and Public Interest Alberta stopped in Lethbridge near the start of a province-wide series of forums which moves to Medicine Hat today.Read the article online at the Lethbridge Herald.