Alberta Budget 2020: Seniors benefits to be reduced

On March 1st 2020, the Alberta government announced the reduced funding for many Alberta seniors benefits programs including the Special Needs Assistance for Seniors (SNAS).

Drug benefits for seniors are being cut by $72 million this year, the 2020 budget revealed.

The provincial government is introducing income-tested deductibles this year for beneficiaries with higher incomes, but the document doesn’t outline specifics on the changes. Estimates in the UCP government’s general revenue fund show a reduction from $589.6 million in 2019-2020 to $517.4 million in 2020-2021 in spending for the program.

The minister’s spokesperson Tara Jago said in an email statement the drug plan for seniors is the province’s most expensive, and cuts will ensure the program is sustainable.

“Removing non-seniors from the drug plan, using lower cost but equally effective drugs, and introducing an income-tested deductible for high-income beneficiaries – are necessary steps,” she said. “Requiring seniors with higher incomes to pay a deductible brings Alberta in line with other provinces. Low-income seniors will continue to pay nothing.”

Opposition Leader Rachel Notley said seniors got a “raw deal” in this budget and the cuts amount to losing universal drug coverage for seniors.

“What we’re going to see is massive costs downloaded onto seniors or, in some cases, many seniors who simply can’t afford to take the drugs that their doctors prescribe that allow them to maintain a good quality of life … that allows them to stay out of hospitals,” she said at the legislature Thursday. “It is penny wise, pound foolish and cruel.”

The Special Needs Assistance for Seniors program, which helps low-income seniors buy items like foot orthotics and lift chairs, is also being cut, to “focus on the most essential supports,” according to the budget. The government expects to save $8.2 million between 2020-2021 and $8.7 million in the next year through these cuts.

Lori Sigurdson, NDP critic for seniors and housing, said the funding cuts will create hardships for seniors.

“It’s so clear that this UCP government doesn’t care about seniors but they’re making elite corporations the priority,” she said. “They live on fixed incomes sometimes, so they’re going to have to reach in their pockets more for the things they need.”

As a result of the budget cuts, lift chairs are no longer funded for Alberta seniors but it appears mattresses and personal emergency response devices are still covered.