New health plan will make thousands of prescriptions free for young Ontarians

OHIP Plus plan available for those aged 24 and under, misses majority of people who can’t afford medications, says NDP critic

Starting Jan. 1, over 4,400 prescribed drugs will be free for people 24-years-old or younger in Ontario.

Under the Ontario government’s OHIP Plus program, which will cost an estimated $450 million a year, anyone with a health card can get prescribed medications for free. Drugs covered in the plan include antibiotics, EpiPens and medications for asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression and more.

In a statement, Ontario health and long-term care minister Eric Hoskins said that the government believes all families in the province deserve the same access to medication.

“By making over 4,400 medications available to Ontarians 24 and under at no cost, we are helping all children and youth, regardless of income, get the care they need,” he said.

France Gélinas, the New Democrats’ (NDP) critic for health and pharmacare said that the Liberal’s plan was missing the majority of people, aged 35-65, who can’t afford their medications.

“These are people who are precariously employed, (and) although they are working, they still live in poverty,” she said. “They are diagnosed with one, two, sometimes three chronic diseases that all need medication management for them to live healthy. And they are the one who have the most trouble accessing their drugs.”

The NDP has announced its own pharmacare plan earlier this year which, if implemented, would provide universal coverage for 125 “essential medicines,” according to a party document. The covered medicines would be determined by an independent committee, which would evaluate the drugs included based on “the demonstrated health needs of Ontarians.”

Gélinas said that most health issues experienced by people aged 24 or under are not chronic, but for those diagnosed with mental health issues she is concerned about what happens when they age out of the plan.

“Most serious mental illnesses will be diagnosed between the age of 18 and 25 and those people will be put on medication probably for the rest of their lives,” Gélinas said. “And who in this day and age at 25 has a full-time job and a drug plan?”

Mark Nesbitt, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care, said that OHIP Plus is a starting point for universal pharmacare.

“We’ve have to start somewhere for universal pharmacare, so we’re hoping that this will be a good example,” he said. “The OHIP Plus plan is meant to ease the burden of children with chronic illnesses. Also for youth with everyday health concerns, as well.”

Full-time George Brown College students have access to health plans through the Student Association (SA), which funds The Dialog. The enhanced drug plan offers 90 per cent coverage of most prescription drugs and medicine for domestic and international students, up to $6,500.

International students paid $603 for the plan from September until the end of April, and domestic $206.

Yukiko Ito, the SA’s senior coordinator of member services, said that the student health plans will remain unchanged for this school year.

However, she added that the SA has requested a review of the next school year for students who are covered by OHIP Plus with its insurance provider, We Speak Student.

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New health plan will make thousands of prescriptions free for young Ontarians