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Changes to Nova Scotia pharmacare program don't add up

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On Jan. 15, Nova Scotia's Health and Wellness department -- Leo Glavine, proprietor -- issued a gauzy, feel-fine press release headlined, "Lower Seniors' Pharmacare Co-pays Begin April 1."

You had to carefully parse, syllable by syllable, its disingenuous first sentence -- "Changes to the Seniors' Pharmacare program mean Nova Scotians enrolled in the program will soon pay less each time they pick up a prescription" -- to realize reality was not necessarily the sunshine Leo was spinning.

That sentence referred to "co-pay," the percentage of the price of each individual prescription a Pharmacare member pays. It will indeed drop from 30 to 20 per cent, but the government hasn't changed the maximum co-pay of $382 a year. So anyone who needs a significant number of medications in a year will still pay the same total.

"Because of our government's changes," declared Glavine, dealing himself the winning hand, "12,000 seniors who previously paid a premium won't pay one this year [and] 29,000 seniors will pay a reduced premium."

But the press release conveniently didn't mention the government was almost tripling the maximum premium from $424 per year to $1,200. Neither did it explain -- it took nearly two weeks for reporters and Opposition MLAs to ferret out the fine details -- that 40,000 of the 120,000 seniors enrolled in the program will actually pay higher premiums, and that 8,000 of them will have to fork over the maximum amount.

Even the government's rationale -- that it needed to increase revenues to keep the program sustainable -- turned out to be a fib. After crunching numbers the health department reluctantly provided, veteran CBC legislative reporter Jean Laroche reported the government's own figures "suggests keeping the current system might be a better bet. Health Department officials would not comment on that outcome."

So what is the government really up to? The most plausible explanation is that it intends to fatten its coffers by by picking the pockets of seniors, so it can then claim to have balanced the provincial budget before the next provincial election.

You can see the same math at work in the government's decision to kill the film tax credit. What's the future of a formerly vibrant film industry measured against the prospect of a second term in office?

Do the math.

This article first appeared in Stephen Kimber's Halifax Metro column.

Image: Ano Lobb/flickr

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