Province enhances senior drug and dental care plan

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Opposition calls the move “window dressing”

QUEEN’S PARK – The Ontario government is updating the income eligibility thresholds for the Ontario Seniors Dental Care Program and the Seniors Co-Payment Program, a move they say will allow more of Ontario’s most vulnerable seniors to have access to dental care and affordable prescription medications—but the opposition suggests this is little more than window dressing.

“Our government continues to support Ontario’s seniors by ensuring they have access to the quality dental care and the prescription medications they need,” said Christine Elliott, deputy premier and minister of health. “Expanding access to these programs to even more low-income seniors build on our government’s ongoing efforts to protect hospital capacity and will help improve the quality of life and well-being of low-income seniors.”

“It’s just window dressing,” responded Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Mike Mantha. “They are expanding the income eligibility threshold—cost of living increases.”

A release announcing the changes notes that in 2019, the Ontario government launched the Ontario Seniors Dental Care program to provide free routine dental care for eligible low-income seniors across the province. The Seniors Co-Payment Program enables low-income seniors to access the medication they need with no annual deductible and a reduced co-payment for each prescription.

Starting August 1, 2021, eligibility thresholds for both programs will be updated to reflect cost of living increases in Ontario and align with income support programs for seniors. Income thresholds will be updated for single Ontarians aged 65 and over, from $19,300 to $22,200 and for couples with a combined annual income, from $32,300 to $37,100.  The government asserts these changes “will allow approximately 7,000 more seniors to access the Ontario Seniors Dental Care Program and 17,000 more seniors to access the Seniors Co-Payment Program in 2021-2022.”

The province goes on to say that these changes will help to reduce unnecessary trips to the hospital and improve seniors’ quality of life and will further support hospital capacity as Ontario continues to struggle through a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. The province maintains the changes are “a key component of the government’s plan to end hallway health care.”

Seniors who are eligible under the new income thresholds under the Seniors Co-Payment Program are encouraged to apply now, in advance of the start of the upcoming benefit year on August 1, 2021, noting that “applying early will help ensure eligible seniors receive the reduction in their drug deductible and co-payment on time to minimize the chance of out of pocket expenses. Once an application has been submitted, eligibility will be assessed to confirm enrollment for the year.”

“We know that good oral health is linked to not only better physical health, but also better overall mental health,” said Raymond Cho, minister for seniors and accessibility. “These programs help provide seniors with the dignity they deserve and help to improve their quality of life.”