There could be more trouble brewing for the NLPDP
What’s being cut and what’s being saved in the Newfoundland and Labrador Prescription Drug Program (NLPDP) is confusing, but now according to one Progressive Conservative MHA we may not have been told the entire truth about these cuts and savings.
Steve Kent, a former minister of health and community services, expects additional slashes to the program in the supplemental budget this fall. The NLPDP is tax-payer funded and used by the province’s poorest.
“There is about a $7.7 million cut to the Health budget that the department is simply explaining as line by line savings and operational savings,” Kent wrote in a June 13 email. “This is a significant cut to the department’s budget and Minister Haggie refuses to explain what’s being impacted. I suspect that part of this amount represents even further cuts to the Prescription Drug Program, and perhaps the Minister doesn’t want to talk about it. Why won’t the Liberal Government tell us what they’re cutting? It’s possible that they still don’t have a plan. Maybe we’ll learn more in budget #2 this fall.”
We know, to some degree, what the Liberal government is cutting. The budget document shows the province plans to save $5.5 million a year by cancelling coverage for most overthe-counter medications and limiting test strips to indigent diabetics.
We also know that an additional $3 million will be saved annually through the elimination of the adult dental program for old-age pensioners receiving the guaranteed income supplement and people earning low wages. According to a CBC news report of April 21, if these groups need fillings, extractions or dentures, they’re out-of-luck.
But there is a line in the budget estimates that’s always been puzzling. It shows that $137, 185,200 will be spent on drug subsidization in 2016-17 as compared to $149,322,400 in 2015-16. Over $12 million will be removed from the NLPDP in one year. More puzzling is a statement by Health and Community Services Minister John Haggie that most of the $12 million will come from the reduction in diabetic test strips.
The reductions begin July 1. Haggie’s department administers the NLPDP.
A May 27 email from the department said there would be “a reduction of $11M in actual drug expenditures” to the program. Five million dollars was explained in the cancellation of over-the-counter drugs and the limitation on test strips “(…$5 million in 2016-17, as reductions only apply to part of this year)”. But there was an unexplained “$6M for the net effect of other changes to the program and the annualization of program changes from 201516.”
Where the additional $6 million in savings was coming from, the department didn’t say. In a followup email of June 10, an explanation for the $6 million was offered. “This figure includes a number of changes including an increase in funding for the Smoking Cessation Program; transfer of funding from the NLPDP to Eastern Health for the drugs Eprex and Aranesp; revisions to pharmacy compensation; and the cost of annualizing changes to the program budget made in 201516,” the email read in part. (The drugs Eprex and Aranesp are used mainly to treat anemia caused by chemotherapy or chronic kidney disease).
As for the additional $1 million or so referred to by Haggie, a New Democratic Party staffer who reviewed the emails, said this appeared to entail savings on computer work and an increase in new revenue.
But the entire matter is disconcerting. Nowhere in the emails was the elimination of the adult dental program for specific groups mentioned and John Haggie’s statement that the brunt of the $12 million would come from the reduction in test strips is nonsensical, particularly when a department email put the “NLPDP budget savings for test strips for one full fiscal year (at) $2.2 million.”
Most troubling of all is Steve Kent’s speculation that our most vulnerable may well face further cuts to their drug plan in the fall because of numbers buried in the budget which can be manipulated to their detriment. All over-the-counter medications have been taken away from our underprivileged with the exception of head-lice treatments, maternal vitamins and medications for children in care. The only group not affected are those with cystic fibrosis or growth hormone deficiency. Some diabetics will see their test strips reduced from the current 2,500 yearly to just 50well below the recommendation of the Canadian Diabetes Association.
Minister Haggie’s government was elected with a resounding majority because people trusted it to act in their best interest. And it is my speculation that many of these people are heavily dependent on the NLPDP. They deserve better. We all do. And we certainly deserve more clarity, more competence, and more honesty from the government to which such trust was given.
We certainly deserve more clarity, more competence, and more honesty from the government to which such trust was given.