New Brunswick’s aging population are feeling the effects of social isolation, loneliness, and financial stress. However, this is not a new phenomenon.
Cost-cutting measures and policy changes by the government of New Brunswick have been affecting our most vulnerable populations for years, and the repercussions are only exacerbated by the global pandemic.
Seniors, in general, experience barriers to accessing service. Low-income seniors face even more systemic challenges when it comes to health care and health coverage.
The current policy in New Brunswick does not reflect the unique needs of our growing senior’s population who rely on social supports. Once an individual reaches the age of 65, they are no longer eligible for the Social Development “White” Health Card. This Health Card is integral for ensuring individuals relying on social income supports can access the health and medical coverage required to meet their needs. At the age of 65, individuals relying on this Health Card must apply for the New Brunswick Drug Plan to continue to access their prescriptions.
But the New Brunswick Drug Plan only covers prescription medications, thus seniors who require health coverage for medical equipment or devices are left without. This includes seniors in need of sterile diabetic equipment, hearing aids, eyeglasses, orthotics, and more. How can we expect seniors to successfully age in place when they are living without essential and basic medical care?
To add to this, seniors who apply late for additional health coverage are penalized. If a senior does not apply for the Seniors’ Health Program within 60 days of turning 65, they are subject to a medical questionnaire. They can be denied based on their medical history leaving them without any coverage for medical services or equipment. If the senior gets approved, there is a one-year waiting period for other essential benefits such as diabetic supplies, orthotics, and glasses. This means the senior will be paying for benefits they are not able to use.
These are just a few examples of the barriers facing our aging population in regards to their health.
Our population is aging, our healthcare systems are struggling, and we need to find solutions to ensure New Brunswick seniors have affordable access to medical equipment that will help them age well and remain in their homes and communities.
We need to be creative in addressing the health needs of our aging population.
One way to ensure low-income seniors have access to required health services and medical equipment is by allowing access to the Social Development Health Card to recipients of the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS). These individuals have already been deemed low-income and thus have the greatest need for affordable access to health coverage.
A proposal of this solution has been issued to Bruce Fitch, Minister of Social Development, and to Dorothy Shephard, Minister of Health for New Brunswick.
But this is not enough.
We need to come together as a community and start a conversation about the barriers facing seniors in New Brunswick. This underrepresented population continues to grow, year after year, and we need to pay attention to the health and well-being of our aging population.
We ask that you start having these conversations. With your friends, with your family, and with colleagues.
We ask that you speak with your local MLA about the issues facing our aging population.
And we ask that you consider the seniors in your life. Talk to them. Empathize with their struggles and reach out to support where you can. The smallest act of kindness can go a long way.
Emma Bradley, Keirstin Hoyt and Laura Whitty are students of social work at St. Thomas University and have been researching issues facing seniors as they age-in-place.