Ontario unveils new drug, dental coverage for people without workplace benefits

While Wednesday’s provincial budget in Ontario offered details on the inclusion of seniors in the government’s pharmacare program, Ontarians over age 65 aren’t the only cohort set to benefit from expanded drug coverage.

Through the introduction of the Ontario drug and dental program, all Ontarians will be eligible for some coverage in those areas if they aren’t already part of a workplace benefits plan or have access to another government program.

Breaking it down by family situation, the plan will cover 80 per cent of eligible drug and dental costs up to a maximum of $400 per single person and $600 per couple, with $50 more each year per child. In outlining the plan, the budget documents referred to research that indicates one-quarter of working-age Ontarians have no access to health benefits through an employer or a government program.

Read: Ontario NDP platform to include pharmacare, dental benefits for all workers

The final design of the plan remains subject to further consultation, and there isn’t an official start date. The government estimates the costs at $800 million for the first two years of the program.

In unveiling parts of her platform last week, Ontario New Democrat Party Leader Andrea Horwath promised universal pharmacare and dental care for all Ontarians if elected. When asked on Wednesday whether the inclusion of such a benefit would push her party’s platform to the left, Horwath responded: “I don’t accept that this budget is left. Yes, it’s left. It left a lot of people out.”

Horwath scoffed at the maximum benefits promised by the Liberal government, expressing particular disdain for the idea that $50 is a suitable amount to provide per child. She also noted that every three minutes, someone in the province goes to either a doctor or an emergency room with mouth pain on the assumption that seeking health care that way means the government will pay, a scenario Horwath said is unacceptable.

Read: Ontario Liberals to expand OHIP+ program to seniors

For seniors, the budget reiterated the Liberals’ recent promise that, as of August 2019, they would be able to get prescription medications for free as the government eliminates the existing annual deductible and copayment. As a result of the changes, seniors would be part of the OHIP+ program that currently provides free prescription drugs to youth under age 25.

On the issue of mental health, the budget noted the government’s plans to increase access to publicly funded psychotherapy programs. The plan is to help up to 160,000 Ontarians suffering from anxiety and depression by making more publicly funded psychotherapy services available in primary care facilities, as well as through mental-health and addiction organizations.

Read: Canadian employers expect rise in medical leaves due to mental health: survey