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Nova Scotia NDP says “No” to Essential Services for Disabled

August 31, 2011

Nova Scotia NDP says “No” to Essential Services for Disabled

by Jim Guild

Disabilty rights advocates in Nova Scotia gathered to speak out against funding cuts to medical services. Left to right: Dorothy Kitchen (Disability rights advocate), Doctor Margaret Casey (Chair of the Board of the North End Community Health Centre), April Keddy (current recipient of program), Claire McNeil (Lawyer at Dalhousie Legal Aid Service) Photo: Jim Guild

HALIFAX—Siphoning thousands of dollars from a special-needs program for the disabled while pumping tens of millions into a convention centre is a "betrayal" by Nova Scotia's New Democratic Party government, said many in attendance at a Halifax news conference on August 16.

People with disabilities and their advocates urged the government to cancel changes made on Aug. 8 to the Employment Support and Income Assistance regulations that cut essential health benefits to people living with disabilities.

"I rely on income assistance and have received special needs assistance for massage therapy to treat chronic pain and migraine headaches," April Keddy of Port Williams told the Halifax Media Co-op. She lives with a progressive genetic disorder.

"I need this therapy—it’s not a luxury. Without it I’m afraid I would end up in the hospital long-term," she told the news conference.

"I need this therapy—it’s not a luxury. Without it I’m afraid I would end up in the hospital long-term," April Keddy told the news conference. Photo: Jim Guild

The change in regulations eliminates special-needs assistance for drugs and treatments not covered by the provincial Medical Services Insurance (MSI), such as massage therapy, psychological counseling and a range of alternative medications, said Dalhousie legal-aid lawyer Claire McNeil.

The government cuts, which affect fewer than 25 people, were made without notice, public consultation or input from health or disability rights groups, said McNeil.

A quick check of the health plan covering Nova Scotia MLAs and all employees of the provincial government reveals that all such treatments are recognized and covered for up to a total of $1,500 a year.

The government has said the changes are meant to clarify what is covered by law.

"They haven’t clarified the law, they’ve stripped people with disabilities of their rights by repealing laws that made it possible for those living in poverty to request services essential to maintain their health," McNeil said.

"This change undermines a human right that has been in place since national standards were put in place 45 years ago under the Canada Assistance Plan," she continued.

McNeil said the government cutback prevents provincial Department of Community Service caseworkers from using their discretion to accommodate special needs, and limits the caseworkers to a "cookie-cutter" approach with a narrow list of approved items.

"And the cuts won’t even save money," said Dr. Margaret Casey, chair of the board of directors at the North End Community Clinic.

"These cuts will create a gap in services which will increase demands on family physicians, pharmacare programs and emergency rooms, adding to the burden on the healthcare systems," Casey said.

"For individual patients living in poverty, it will mean no access to measures designed to alleviate pain and suffering," she explained.

Many attending the news conference expressed disgust that an NDP government they helped elect would take such a discriminatory and ill-advised approach.

Pamela Harrison said that, had these cuts been made three years ago, the audience of people protesting the cuts could have included many NDP MLAs and party officials. None were in attendance.

Another person wondered why the NDP government had millions of dollars for developers and business but were trying to save a pittance by hurting the disabled. "Are developers’ needs more special?" The province and Halifax Regional Municipality have each committed $56 million to have a convention centre built by Rank Inc. as part of a mixed-use $500-million project. The federal government recently added $51.4 million to the pot.

Jim Guild is retired from a staff rep. position with the NS Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU) and has been active of late with the Halifax Media Co-op.

This piece was originally published by the Halifax Media Co-op.

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