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Free prescriptions for many children and young adults in Ontario set to end in March

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Free taxpayer-funded prescriptions to children and young adults under 25 will end in March if they have private insurance coverage.

The looming change in the OHIP+ pharmacare program, expected to save $250 million a year, was first announced in late June as Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives took power but the time frame for implementation remained a mystery until now.

Changes to Ontario’s OHIP+ pharmacare program will impact children and young adults covered under private insurance plans. Drugs will still be free for those without insurance.
Changes to Ontario’s OHIP+ pharmacare program will impact children and young adults covered under private insurance plans. Drugs will still be free for those without insurance.  (NICOLE CRAINE / NYT)

“The government is fixing OHIP+ by focusing benefits on those who need them the most,” said a notice posted online on a government website this week putting the proposal out for public comment until the end of January.

Sources said the government hopes to have the necessary systems in place with insurers and pharmacies by late March.

Under the new plan, children and young adults will continue to get free prescriptions if they or their parents do not have private health insurance coverage.

Otherwise, private insurance plans become the “first payer” for prescription medicines.

At issue is how pharmacists will be able to verify whether customers under 25 have private coverage, or deductibles or co-payments.

The Ontario Pharmacists Association said it supports the initiative and is eager to have a smooth, streamlined process to make sure children and young adults get the medicines they need without snags.

“There’s still some technical issues and IT system issues to work out,” Allen Malek, the association’s executive vice-president and chief pharmacy officer, told the Star on Friday.

At drug stores, pharmacists will ask customers if they have insurance and check their coverage online. But pharmacists are concerned about the complications of performing a “policing” function on behalf of the government.

“It puts us at a risk we cannot necessarily protect against,” said Malek, concerned some customers, whose insurance plans require them to cover some of their drug costs through co-pays or deductibles, may say they do not have insurance to avoid paying anything.

The association is concerned the government will make pharmacies liable for the costs if it’s later discovered the customer had private insurance.

Health Minister Christine Elliott’s office would not specify how the system would be made fail-safe, other than to say “our government is broadly engaging with employers, pharmacies and insurance companies as part of our efforts to ensure a smooth transition and implementation.”

New Democrat MPP and health critic France Gelinas (Nickel Belt) said the change will be more costly to administer and prone to complications.

“This patchwork system is the most likely to have big cracks for people to fall through, especially since, right now, the government has no sure way to figure out which children have or have not been put back on their parent’s private insurance plans.”

The Green party questioned the promised cost savings, saying Finance Minister Vic Fedeli has put them as low as $100 million and as high as $300 million at different times.

“They have been playing fast and loose with the numbers,” said a statement from the office of Green Leader Mike Schreiner, MPP for Guelph.

About 4,400 medications are eligible under the pharmacare plan launched a year ago by the previous Liberal government.

In his fall economic statement, Fedeli estimated the move will save “at least” $250 million.

“The government promised that it would find efficiencies while ensuring that vital public services are affordable and sustainable, now and in the years to come,” he wrote.

Ford has promised to find $6 billion in annual spending cuts in a bid to eliminate a provincial deficit the government pegs at $14.5 billion.

Drugs covered under OHIP+ are the same ones used in the Ontario Drug Benefit Program for seniors and people on social assistance.

Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1

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Ecology

Today’s letters: ‘Visionary’ plans don’t always work in Ottawa

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The opinion piece written by Tobi Nussbaum, CEO of the NCC, declares that a “bold, visionary transit plan” would showcase the capital.

As a long-term resident of Ottawa, I’ve had it with visionary plans. In the 1950s, the streetcars serving Ottawa so well were sent to the scrapyards. In the early ’60s, Queensway construction bulldozed established neighbourhoods and ripped the city apart. Later in the decade, the downtown railway station, which could have formed the hub of a commuter network, was relocated to the suburbs. These actions, in the name of “progress,” were undertaken with the “vision” to make Ottawa a car-reliant city.

Now we have an LRT, built just in time for most people to realize that they do not have to go downtown as they can work from home.

Current thinking is pushing a new “link” between Ottawa and Gatineau, with yet more expensive and disruptive infrastructure projects being touted, including a tramway or another tunnel under the downtown core.

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That was then: Biggest earthquake since 1653 rocked Ottawa in 1925

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A regular weekly look-back at some offbeat or interesting stories that have appeared in the Ottawa Citizen over its 175-year history. Today: The big one hits.

The Ottawa Senators were playing a Saturday night game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Auditorium, the score tied 0-0 halfway through the second period. Sens’ rookie Ed Gorman and the Habs’ Billy Boucher had just served penalties for a dustup when the building began to make “ominous creaking sounds.” A window crashed to the ground.

Nearby, at Lisgar Collegiate, all eyes were on teenager Roxie Carrier, in the role of Donna Cyrilla in the musical comedy El Bandido. She had the stage to herself and was singing “Sometime” when the building rocked, the spotlight went out, and someone in the audience yelled “Fire!”

At a home on Carey Avenue, one woman’s normally relaxed cat suddenly arched its back, rushed around the room two or three times, spitting angrily, and climbed up the front-window curtains.

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Ottawa delays small nuclear reactor plan as critics decry push for new reactors

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TORONTO — Canadians will have to wait a little while longer to see the federal government’s plan for the development of small nuclear reactors, seen by proponents as critical to the country’s fight against global warming.

Speaking at the opening of a two-day virtual international conference on Wednesday, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of natural resources said the plan will lay out key actions regarding the reactors. Its launch, Paul Lefebvre said, would come in the next few weeks.

“We’re still putting the finishing touches on it,” Lefebvre said. “The action plan is too important to be rushed.”

Small modular reactors — SMRs — are smaller in size and energy output than traditional nuclear power units, and more flexible in their deployment. While conventional reactors produce around 800 megawatts of power, SMRs can deliver up to 300 megawatts.

Proponents consider them ideal as both part of the regular electricity grid as well as for use in remote locations, including industrial sites and isolated northern communities. They could also play a role in the production of hydrogen and local heating.

“SMRs will allow us to take a bold step of meeting our goal of net-zero (emissions) by 2050 while creating good, middle class jobs and strengthening our competitive advantage,” said Lefebvre.

Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan had been scheduled to speak at the conference but did not due to a family emergency.

Industry critics were quick to pounce on the government’s expected SMR announcement. They called on Ottawa to halt its plans to fund the experimental technology.

While nuclear power generation produces no greenhouse gas emissions, a major problem facing the industry is its growing mound of radioactive waste. This week, the government embarked on a round of consultations about what do with the dangerous material.

Dozens of groups, including the NDP, Bloc Quebecois, Green Party and some Indigenous organizations, oppose the plan for developing small modular reactors. They want the government to fight climate change by investing more in renewable energy and energy efficiency.

“We have options that are cheaper and safer and will be available quicker,” Richard Cannings, the NDP natural resources critic, said in a statement.

Lefebvre, however, said the global market for SMRs is expected to be worth between $150 billion and $300 billion a year by 2040. As one of the world’s largest producers of uranium, Canada has to be part of the wave both for economic and environmental reasons, he said.

“There’s a growing demand for smaller, simpler and affordable nuclear technology energy,” Lefebvre said.

Joe McBrearty, head of Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, told the conference the company had signed a host agreement this week with Ottawa-based Global First Power for a demonstration SMR at its Chalk River campus in eastern Ontario. A demonstration reactor will allow for the assessment of the technology’s overall viability, he said.

“When talking about deploying a new technology like an SMR, building a demonstration unit is vital to the success of that process,” McBrearty said. “Most importantly, it allows the public to see the reactor, to kick the tires so to speak, and to have confidence in the safety of its operation.”

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