By Kim Hutchison
The Government of Alberta has announced a new pharmaceutical strategy that will lower or completely eliminate prescription drug costs for about 60 per cent of Alberta’s seniors.
Minister of Health and Wellness, Ron Liepert, said the strategy introduces a number of improvements to drug coverage and the drug system benefiting low income seniors by improving access to drug coverage and making it more affordable.
Key changes under phase one of the Alberta Pharmaceutical Strategy include a multitude of improvements. Drug coverage for seniors will be redesigned so that single seniors with an annual income of less than $21,325 and senior families with an annual combined income of less than $42,650 will not pay for drug coverage. Other seniors will pay a deductible based on their income. A co-payment of up to $25 per prescription will no longer be required when the new plan becomes effective Jan. 1, 2010.
Another improvement includes adjusting non-group coverage premiums to reflect current market rates meaning non-group coverage premiums will be adjusted to make these rates comparable to those of employer and private plans. A premium increase will be phased in over two years, beginning in July 2009. Also, a program to cover catastrophic drug costs for Albertans with extremely rare diseases resulting from genetic disorders will be introduced. The program will be part of non-group coverage and will require a five-year Alberta residency.
Phase two of the strategy, which includes an expanded role for pharmacists and more cost-effective drug purchasing, is under development and more information will be obtainable in 2009.
Currently, 90 per cent of pharmacists in Alberta have taken an orientation course granting them the right to refill prescriptions such as an inhaler for someone with asthma who needs the device but is unable to see a physician. After rigorous evaluation, those pharmacists will have the chance to expand their role even further to provide treatment for more serious ailments.
While this move has advantages such as increased patient convenience, the alleviation of pressure on hospital emergency room’s and doctor’s offices, and being able to help one who may not have a family doctor at all, many pharmacists still prefer to refer a patient to a physician.
Pharmacists at Rexall, Shoppers Drug Mart and the Ponoka Professional Pharmacy were contacted but could not comment directly on the matter until more information becomes available.
For more information on pharmacy and to view a list of the key changes in their entirety visit www.pharmacists.ab.ca