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Free prescription drug coverage coming for Ontario youth and children

CHRISTINE CHUBB | posted Friday, Apr 28th, 2017

Free prescription drug coverage is coming to Ontario for everyone age 24 and under — regardless of family income.

The new pharmacare plan, officially titled OHIP+: Children and Youth Pharmacare, was announced on Thursday as Finance Minister Charles Sousa delivered the provincial Liberal’s budget.

“On behalf of our premier, starting this January we will be expanding our universal health care by providing free drug care for everyone age 24 and under,” Sousa announced as he presented the budget.

According to the new plan, eligible Ontarians will be able to walk into any pharmacy across the province, show their OHIP card and pick up free medicine funded through the Ontario Drug Benefit Program.

The plan will cover 4,400 types of drugs.

As well, there will be no deductible and no co-payment.

Sousa said the plan will help students and “make life more affordable to Ontario families.”

“One way we can be a competitive and a compassionate society is to make sure that people who need medications get medication,” he said.

Souza added that the changing nature of the workplace means many Ontarians don’t have workplace benefits.

“For families with children requiring medication, for young people just entering the workforce who may be working on contract, causing real hardship for some,” he explained.

“We can do better than that. We must do better than that.”

The program will benefit around four million Ontarians and cost $465 million.

That price tag is expected to be funded by the growing economy. According to the Liberals, the GDP is expected to grow 2.6 per cent.

When asked if the province has the money for afford a plan of this size, Sousa was steadfast.

“We can afford it and that’s why we put it in our budget. Keep in mind that even with those who have plans — they still have co-pays and deductibles,” he said.

“We felt that we don’t put a price on our kids and we wanted everyone to have the same benefits.”

The program will be the first of its kind in Canada and Sousa said he hopes the move encourages the federal government to look at a universal Pharmacare plan.

“I’m just very proud of our cabinet and our premier for looking at this in such a progressive way,” he explained.

Pharmacare will be implemented January 2018.

The Liberals had promised no new taxes on families, though they are increasing tobacco taxes by $10 per carton over the next three years and giving municipalities the power to introduce a hotel tax.

In addition to balancing the books this year, the government is now projecting balanced budgets through to 2019-20. Despite reaching balance, however, the province’s debt continues to grow.

It is projected to be $312 billion this year, growing to $336 billion in 2019-20. Interest on debt is the fourth largest spending area, at $11.6 billion.

Historically low interest rates helped the province get to balance, but interest on debt is still projected to be the fastest growing expenditure area, at an average 3.6 per cent from 2015 to 2020.

Nonetheless, the government paints a rosy economic outlook, projecting two per cent average GDP growth through to 2020, driven by exports and business investment.

On the infrastructure front, spending is growing from a promise last year of $160 billion over 12 years to $190 billion over 13 years. The additional $30 billion will go toward new hospital projects, school renewal and child care expansion.

Ontario will also move ahead with planning a high-speed rail corridor between Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, London and Windsor, the government said in the budget. The project could cut in half the four-hour travel time from Toronto to Windsor.

Under the education banner, about $16 billion is earmarked over 10 years to build and improve schools at a time when the government is coming under fire for rural school closures. Another $200 million will go to creating 24,000 child care spaces and subsidizing 60 per cent of them.

Post-secondary graduates will now have to start repaying the provincial part of their student loans when they are earning a $35,000 salary, up from $25,000, which student groups applauded.

Seniors are also specifically targeted in the budget. A public transit tax credit for people 65 and older will see 15 per cent of eligible transit costs refunded with an average annual benefit of $130. That is estimated to cost the government about $10 million a year. The measure comes after the federal government announced it was eliminating a 15-per-cent tax credit for commuters who buy a transit pass.

There is also $11 million over three years for a seniors community grant program and another $8 million over three years for new community centres with seniors’ programming. The province has also earmarked $100 million over three years for a dementia strategy that will include helping patients and their caregivers find support and improve training for health-care workers.

Toronto Mayor John Tory said he was disappointed there was no new cash for affordable housing in the budget.

With files from The Canadian Press


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