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Ontario - Changes coming January 1

The new measures are among the biggest New Year goodies seen in years.

The minimum wage is going up and the cost of prescription drugs is going down as 2018 — an election year — dawns in Ontario.

Thousands of workers will also get an extra week of vacation, and sick notes for the boss are banned among a host of changes that take effect Jan. 1, with opposition parties accusing Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals of timing it all to their advantage for the June 7 vote.

New Year’s Day sees the minimum wage surge $2.40 an hour to $14 and a new pharmacare plan — the first of its kind in Canada — called OHIP+ covering 4 million children, teens and young adults under 25.

They will get free access to 4,400 medications on the provincial formulary simply by presenting a health card and a valid prescription at any pharmacy.

Premier Kathleen Wynne is touting how the government is “helping people get free medications for their kids” and promising a $15 minimum wage in a year. “There are people right now who live in Ontario who are earning the minimum wage, $11.60 an hour, and they still have to go to the food bank,” Wynne says.

10 days of personal emergency leave to all staff in provincially regulated industries, with two days paid, for all who have been with an employer at least one full week — with a notable exception of seven days leave for automotive sector companies. The one week employment requirement is in place to prevent people hired for a few days from calling in sick and getting paid;

People with five years at an employer get three weeks’ vacation, up from two;

The cost of borrowing for payday loans is capped at $15 per $100 borrowed, down from $18;

Municipalities will be able to restrict areas where payday loan shops can operate and limit the number.

Ontario links with Quebec and California in the largest carbon market in North America in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Progressive Conservative MPP Jeff Yurek (Elgin-Middlesex-London) warns parents that kids and teens, college and university students and young adults already in the workforce may not be able to get the same medications they’re used to under OHIP+ if they are fortunate enough to have other coverage.

“The Ontario Drug Benefit (ODB) plan covers fewer drugs than private insurance companies,” notes Yurek, a pharmacist himself.

“They might get surprises when they go for a refill of a prescription that’s not covered. Doctors and pharmacists will be scrambling to find alternatives.”

Liberals counter that people with private plans can still get those medications, although they may have co-payment costs or deductibles, while families without drug insurance coverage will save money on every prescription.

Health Minister Eric Hoskins calls OHIP+ “the biggest advancement of medicare in this province in generations” and says patients wondering if their particular medications are covered can check at the Ontario government site, under medication coverage.

“It’s important to stress that OHIP+ will cover every single drug on Ontario’s formulary: asthma inhalers, EpiPens, diabetes test strips, oral contraceptives, cancer drugs and drugs for rare diseases,” he adds.

“Diabetes test strips and insulin for low-income families struggling to pay the bills every week will save them thousands of dollars each year.”

Other medications under OHIP+ include antibiotics for infections, antidepressants, mental health drugs and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder drugs.

Pharmacies will be reimbursed by the government for the cost of dispensing and providing the drugs. Doctors and nurse practitioners are being urged to check the ODB formulary before prescribing medications, to make sure patients without private drug plans can get the medicines they need free of charge.

Sandy Pop    1/1/2018


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