Ford government fails people on disability in transition from BI to ODSP; pharmacists step in

Roderick Benns

A local social worker is sounding the alarm over the transition for people who were collecting basic income and then returned to ODSP, which left some people on disability with a gap in medication coverage.

Karla Forgaard-Pullen, a social worker based in Lindsay, says that some of the basic income recipients who were previously on ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program) are on a backlogged list waiting for their return to the program to be green lit. The basic income program issued its last payment in March.

“But what also ended March 31 is health and dental coverage,” says Forgaard-Pullen. “This means that there are medically disabled people living without access to their required prescription medications until, and if, they receive approval of their status as ODSP recipients.”

She says she knows that at least some of these cases the medications prescribed “are critical to their lives.”

Cathy Puffer, owner and pharmacist at Remedy’sRx confirms this.

“There are about 40 patients here who were affected – and that’s just our pharmacy.” The Advocate has verified that at least one other pharmacy — Queen’s Square Pharmacy — has stepped in to do the same thing.

“We’ve been covering them during this gap time, and the first week was the worst,” says Puffer.

“It was a horrible transition by the government,” Puffer tells the Advocate. She says in the first week the pharmacy had to call a special number and they were only allowed to give five names at a time. Sometimes the pharmacists were on hold for an hour to confirm whether each person would go back to having coverage if successfully reinstated to ODSP – something that was supposed to happen automatically, with no questions asked.

Puffer says now a website has been set up and the pharmacy can independently confirm the needed information.

“I still have someone waiting to know. She has her medication and is okay but it’s not a good situation. For several of my patients it has really increased their anxiety levels. Their mental health has taken a hit,” says Puffer.

Forgaard-Pullen says that in one specific incident, the person was told by an ODSP worker to ask the pharmacy to cover them until the file could be dealt with, passing the poor transition off onto pharmacies.

The Province has known for many months that basic income recipients who were previously on ODSP would be returning to that program, where health and dental coverage should be automatic.

“It is unreasonable to off-load, even temporarily, the cost of supplying approved life sustaining medications to retail pharmacies,” says Forgaard-Pullen.

“That requires pharmacists, and their companies, to effectively extend credit. Even though generic medications are used in every possible instance, some of these are very expensive and it is not the place of business to cover governmental responsibilities.”

The social worker says the anxiety “caused by an unstable access to medications such as insulin, anti-psychotics and heart medications is unconscionable.”

“If the ODSP office does not complete approvals for all the back logged files by end of month, what will these people do for rent and utilities? Will landlords and Hydro One ‘extend’ coverage until the workers can finish these files?” Forgaard-Pullen asks.

Basic income was cancelled by the PC government, despite a promise on the campaign trail to let the pilot complete its three years of data gathering. More than 1,800 people in Lindsay were able to access at least some level of basic income to bring them closer to the poverty line.

After reviewing the recent Ontario budget Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner castigated the PCs for their priorities.

“If you look through this budget, it mentions booze and gambling 63 times, it mentions climate change 15 times, and it mentions poverty zero times — it says a lot about the priorities of the Ford government,” he said.

The budget also contained a provision to make it next to impossible to sue the government for cases of misfeasance and negligence. Interestingly, this comes as a class action lawsuit is now underway against the government, with four people from Lindsay leading the charge.

The lawsuit alleges the government breached its contract with the pilot project’s 4,000 participants in the communities of Lindsay, Thunder Bay and Hamilton. The Toronto law firm, Cavalluzzo LLP, has recently taken on the class action.

-- This article was originally published in the Lindsay Advocate here.