Ontario budget makes province first in Canada to offer free prescription drugs to everyone under 25
More than four million Ontarians up to the age of 24 will receive free prescription drugs starting next year.
The province will become the first in Canada to offer pharmacare to all young Ontarians, a move announced Thursday in its 2017 budget. The Liberals say the plan will cost about $465 million a year to cover all young people, regardless of family income, as of Jan. 1, 2018.
It’s the flagship promise in the Liberals’ first balanced budget in almost a decade, a budget that includes big re-investments in health care after years of funding increases that barely kept pace with inflation.
In an era with increasingly precarious employment and fewer or slimmer workplace benefit plans, the move offers pocketbook relief to parents across the province a year before the next provincial election.
“This balanced budget is dedicated to providing young people with free prescription medications, providing free tuition and helping businesses grow,” Finance Minister Charles Sousa said in a statement.
When asked during reporters’ questions why the program was not universal, Finance Minister Charles Sousa said the aim was to start with the most vulnerable and hope it would encourage Ottawa and the other provinces to start a conversation about national pharmacare.
NDP leader Andrea Horwath said Ontarians “will have to wait for a change in government” for everyone to be able to afford prescription drugs.
Some 4,400 drugs will fall under the plan, which will use the same formulary as the Ontario Drug Benefit — which already covers anyone on social assistance and seniors. Now, anyone up to the age of 24 covered under the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) will also be covered for prescription drugs simply by showing their health card.
For rare drugs or off–label uses (when physicians prescribe a drug for an ailment not listed for use by Health Canada), doctors and patients can apply to the same “exceptional access program” under the existing provincial drug coverage plan.
The new “OHIP+” — as the government has dubbed it — will essentially double the number of people covered for prescription drugs from 3.9 million to almost 8 million.
It’s all part of a $11.5-billion three-year injection into health care, which the province calls a “booster shot.”
Of that, $1.3 billion will be used to reduce wait times in hospitals and for key procedures, like knee and hip replacement surgeries and cancer treatments.
Breast pumps will now be provided free to mothers of premature babies and the provincial breast milk bank will be expanded. Newborns in Ontario will now be screened for hearing loss at birth to allow for earlier treatments.
A $100-million Dementia Strategy and increased caregiver tax credits aim to boost seniors’ care, along with an additional $250-million investment in home and community care.
Hospitals, which have for years called for funding increases and capital investments, are getting a three per cent increase to operations funding and $9 billion in capital investments for upgrades and new builds.
Five new hospitals will be built across the province, many in key battlegrounds for the Liberals as they set the pace for the 2018 election: Niagara, Windsor, Hamilton, Mississauga and in the Weeneebayko First Nation.