Protesters who staged a one-day sit-in to speak out against proposed changes to their drug costs say that seniors have been hoodwinked by Premier Alison Redford.
Bill Moore-Kilgannon said on Friday that Ms. Redford promised during her campaign to lead the Progressive Conservative Party that she would not impose means tests for seniors' drug costs, but has reversed her position.
"That's why there's a sense of betrayal from these seniors' organizations and why we were adamant that we wanted to meet with the Premier," said Mr. Moore-Kilgannon, who is with the advocacy group Public Interest Alberta. "If the Premier decides to move ahead with a means-tested system, then she – along with the Health Minister – needs to meet with seniors' organizations and explain very clearly why she is going against her word."
About two dozen seniors walked into Health Minister Fred Horne's constituency office in a south Edmonton strip mall on Thursday and refused to leave until they had a meeting with Ms. Redford and received an explanation as to why a letter they sent to the minister in September over the drug changes was never answered.
Ms. Redford has said she will work through Mr. Horne and has declined to meet with the protesters. Mr. Horne said he would meet with the group next month.
The protesters had planned to stay through the night, but Mr. Moore-Kilgannon said just after midnight Friday, one of Mr. Horne's staff called police.
"We were all getting ready to sleep. She [the staffer] clearly waited until there were no more media outside."
He said three patrol cars rolled up and two officers came in.
"We weren't there to cause any major disturbance. The police asked us to leave and we did."
The office was closed on Friday.
Right now, most seniors pay 30 per cent of the cost of prescription drugs up to a maximum of $25, regardless of income.
Concerns began when the government announced in last year's March budget that it would consolidate 18 current and supplementary drug plans into one income-based plan to save $180-million. The new plan was to take effect on Jan. 1, but has been deferred while Mr. Horne gathers more opinions from stakeholders.
Mr. Moore-Kilgannon said no one has talked to seniors' organizations and he can find no information on the government's website on who is being consulted or if there are any public forums.
Mr. Horne's spokesman, Matthew Grant, could not be immediately reached for comment.
Mr. Horne said in a statement that the goal is to have effective seniors' drug coverage while also providing access for the 20 per cent of Albertans who have no drug or benefit coverage.
"The purpose of this initiative is not to cut benefits or costs, as has been suggested."
Mr. Horne's news release did not address the core concerns over means-testing.
Mr. Moore-Kilgannon said Ms. Redford made her feelings clear to seniors in talks, and in writing, during her run for the PC leadership in 2011.
"I will make sure [seniors] are not forced to bear the often staggering cost of medications," she wrote to the Coalition of Seniors Advocates Association on Sept. 6, 2011. "Elderly Albertans devoted their lives to building this province and income-based supports … are a poor repayment for their efforts."
When asked on Friday if the Premier stands by that statement, her spokeswoman, Neala Barton, said: "The Premier stands by the process that is under way now, which is the consultation process."
Ms. Redford is in India on a trade mission.
NDP critic Dave Eggen said it's a shame how things have turned out.
"It comes down to seniors getting stuck for more of the bill for paying for prescriptions."