Skating around age discrimination in Ontario’s new pharmacare program

The Full Nelson

by Nelson Zandbergen
Nation Valley News Editor

Did the Ontario government just deliver a body check to the Charter rights of working-age adults who fall outside the single capricious requirement of Finance Minister Charles Sousa’s new pharmacare plan?

It seems at least a few millionaire NHL hockey players will be eligible to receive free prescription drug coverage when the province rolls out the new social program benefiting only some pre-retirement adults — based solely on their age, not their means — while other Ontarians won’t be eligible — again, based solely on their age, not their means.

At a cost of $465-million per year (starting next January), the Ontario government will pick up the drug bills of anyone under age 25. The category includes not just children but also adults 18 to 24 — adults like, say, the Maple Leafs’ Mitchell Marner (age 19), and the Ottawa Senators’ Ben Harper (age 22), Cody Ceci (age 23) and Mark Stone (age 24, until next May). Of course, that’s assuming those professional athletes live here in Ontario, a province with an apparent penchant for coddling and infantilizing young adults like them. 

Is it fair for Ontario taxpayers to theoretically pick up the tab for these gentlemen but not that of a 30-year-old working mother — just because she’s not quite as young as Mark Stone? Whether 18, 20, 30, or 55 years old, legal adults of working age in Canada expect equal treatment under the law. They’re all eligible to vote and run for office. All of them could be enrolled at school at any time — education being a lifetime thing, we are told, over and over again.

Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms expressly prohibits discrimination on the basis of age.

And yet, when asked by Nation Valley News if the new ‘youth’ pharmacare initiative is Charter compliant, the government conflates the issue by referring to existing means-tested programs that pay for drugs of qualifying adults — for example, individuals in long-term care or on social assistance. Key word here is “qualifying” as those programs look at a person’s life circumstances before delivering.

But the latest program considers only one thing: age. You can be poor, or you can be an NHL superstar, it doesn’t matter so long as you belong to the chosen group. Would anyone put up with a drinking fountain labelled ‘18-to-24-year-olds’ only? But somehow, it’s fine and dandy for Sousa to flow funded prescription medication on that model.

The Wynne government is “unable” to say if it sought legal advice on the new program’s Charter compliance, according to Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care spokesperson David Jensen. A question and answer exchange with Jensen appears below.

Q. Does the government maintain that the new plan to cover the prescription drug costs of only some working-age, pre-retirement adults, based solely on their age alone (18-24), is a reasonable form of discrimination under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms?

A. Children and youth are considered vulnerable populations that must rely on their parents, caregivers and families for financial support. Young people aged 19-24 are less likely to have access to prescription drug coverage or the financial means to pay out-of-pocket due to higher unemployment and lower incomes. Further, the unemployment rate for youth (aged 15-24) in Ontario, is almost three times higher than the unemployment rate for adults over the age of 25. The government is confident that the proposed program will provide a better start in life for our children and youth, resulting in a healthier, higher quality of life.

Q. Has the government sought legal opinions on whether the new drug plan covering only some pre-retirement adults complies with the Charter?

A. The government is unable to comment on what legal advice or opinions may have been sought or received in relation to the proposed OHIP+: Children and Youth Pharmacare program.

Q. What makes a 24-year-old adult more worthy of government-funded drug coverage than a 44-year-old adult?

A. Children and youth are considered vulnerable populations that must rely on their parents, caregivers and families for financial support. Young people aged 19-24 are less likely to have access to prescription drug coverage or the financial means to pay out-of-pocket due to generally higher unemployment and lower incomes in this cohort. Further, the unemployment rate for youth (aged 15-24) in Ontario is almost three times higher than the unemployment rate for adults over the age of 25.

Ontarians between the ages of 25 and 64 can receive coverage under the Ontario Drug Benefit Program if they receive social assistance, are enrolled in the Trillium Drug Program, receive professional home care services, or are residents in long-term care homes or homes for special care.


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