Blog | January 17, 2014

Group angry over proposed changes to senior’s drug plan vows to continue fight

By Miriam Ibrahim, Edmonton JournalEDMONTON - After being kicked out of the health minister’s constituency office early Friday morning following an all-day sit in, a group of seniors angry over proposed drug plan changes have declared a partial victory but vowed to continue their fight.About 20 protesters with Public Interest Alberta’s seniors task force crowded into Fred Horne’s Saddleback Road office Thursday morning, demanding a meeting with the minister and Premier Alison Redford about the government’s plans to introduce a new pharmacare plan.Under the proposal, the province’s 18 different drug plans would be consolidated into one income-based system, but few other details have been released.A few hours after the sit-in began Thursday, Horne’s staff offered a meeting in February, but protesters refused to leave his office until Redford also committed to a meeting.Seven seniors stayed in Horne’s office into Thursday night, but shortly after midnight, police were called to remove the demonstrators, said Noel Somerville, chairman of the seniors task force. Supporters who had arrived through the evening were not allowed into the office to bring food to protesters, he added.“It was beomcing kind of a contest of wills that does not relate to the issue,” he said. The protesters agreed to leave when police asked, he said.Somerville said protesters felt they’d achieved a “partial victory” by getting a meeting with Horne, but said they have plans for more action and continue to hope for a meeting with Redford. Her office has so far refused their request.“We’re not anarchists. We’re a bunch of old guys who are really kind of ticked off at the way we’re being treated, and we will keep on making that clear,” Somerville said.In a statement, Horne said his ministry is continuing consultations with affected groups and said there are no plans to cut benefits for seniors.“To suggest that any changes are imminent or that there is a hidden plan to move ahead with implementation of changes is simply not accurate,” he said. Protesters said both Horne and Redford had previously promised in writing they had no plans to introduce changes to the provincially-run seniors drug program. Currently, seniors pay 30 per cent of the cost of each prescription, to a maximum of $25, regardless of income.“If they are prepared to preserve the plan, that’s great. If they’re not, I think the premier needs to explain why she has found it necessary to go back on a promise she made when she was seeking office,” Somerville said.The province introduced its pharamacre plan in March 2013, saying it would save the government $180 million. It was originally set to be implemented Jan. 1, but last fall Horne said that date would be delayed to later in 2014 to allow for more consultation.“Consultation and discussion is ongoing and I would like to thank all Albertans who have taken the time to share their views,” Horne’s statement says. “I reiterate our commitment we will not move forward with any changes until this process is complete.”[email protected]/mariamdenaRead the article at The Edmonton Journal