Federal gov’t risks ignoring existing provincial drug insurance plans in push for national program

Provincial Drug Coverage for Vulnerable Canadians

Despite widespread misperceptions, every province already provides prescription drug coverage to help Canadians—particularly seniors and lower-income Canadians—pay for pharmaceuticals, finds a new study released today by the Fraser Institute, an independent, non-partisan Canadian public policy think-tank.

“Much of the discussion about a possible national pharmacare plan seemingly assumes there’s no existing government help for Canadians to pay for medicines they need—but that’s just not true,” said Bacchus Barua, associate director of health policy studies at the Fraser Institute and co-author of Provincial Drug Coverage for Vulnerable Canadians.

The study summarizes provincial drug programs across the country and finds that, while levels of coverage vary by province, three key vulnerable groups, namely lower-income Canadians, seniors, and Canadians on social assistance have access to prescription drugs, paid in full or in part by provincial governments.

Provincial governments across Canada also provide drug coverage to select populations who may face considerable hardships as a result of either their medical care costs or other factors including the severely disabled and those diagnosed with conditions like multiple sclerosis and cystic fibrosis.

Crucially, provinces are able to establish prescription drug plans to suit their particular priorities, population age, income levels and other factors, which differ from province to province. This customization would likely be lost or at least diluted if Canada adopts a national program.

“Provinces can tailor drug plans to suit their individual needs, but a single-payer national pharmacare system would put an end to that,” said Yanick Labrie, a senior fellow with the Fraser Institute who specializes in health and pharmaceutical economics.

“Instead of a drug program modelled on our inflexible health-care system, we should instead seek to understand what gaps exist in our provincial plans and target resources to Canadians who need assistance.”

Follow the Fraser Institute onTwitter and Facebook

The Fraser Institute is an independent Cnadian public policy research and educational organization with offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal and ties to a global network of think-tanks in 87 countries. Its mission is to improve the quality of life for Canadians, their families and future generations by studying, measuring and broadly communicating the effects of government policies, entrepreneurship and choice on their well-being. To protect the Institute’s independence, it does not accept grants from governments or contracts for research. Visit www.fraserinstitute.org

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Car, home insurance rates after cannabis legalization still to be determined

BY LASIA KRETZEL AND SASHA LAKIC | News1130

Anyone thinking of growing marijuana plants in their home or lighting up once it’s legal next week, might want to look into their home or renters insurance and avoid getting behind the wheel.

Home insurance, will likely be on a case-by-case basis, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) because insurance companies generally use prior experience to assess rates, which is not possible while cannabis is still illegal.

“Insurance rates and premiums all are based on risk and experience, and we don’t know what that experience is going to be like once it’s legalized,” Vanessa Barrasa with IBC said. “It’s not like, ‘oh, cannabis is legal, the next day all your insurance and home rates grow.’ It doesn’t work that way.”

She says because this is uncharted territory, many providers are still figuring out their rates for cannabis.

“Every company is setting their own limits and so it’s really important that if you have a material change – you now have cannabis plants, before you didn’t – that is something that you should inform your insurance company of and make sure, obviously, that you’re being truthful and honest,” she said.

Right now, home insurance in Canada does not cover any loss if the property is used for cannabis activities, so she says each company is developing its own policy.

When it comes to renters, she recommends always having tenant insurance, so that belongings are covered if something happens at home. She adds that in any case, people should abide by the legal limits of owning plants and to inform themselves about how their insurance provider will address owning cannabis once it’s legal.

“That would be specific to your tenant or home insurance policy and it’s important that you speak to your insurance to make sure that they’re aware of your contents and you know what your limits are,” Barrasa said.

Car insurance could go up if you’re caught stoned

More expensive car insurance could be in the future of those caught high behind the wheel in B.C.

Driving under the influence of pot is still considered impaired driving, despite the statistic from BCAA that 20 per cent of millennials think they drive the same or even better when high.

It could immediately land you with a driving suspension, which lawyer Kyla Lee says ICBC will take into account when new rates go into effect next September.

“Everybody needs to be very careful when it comes to using cannabis while driving and using cannabis and then driving after the fact because it can have consequences that right now you don’t know that you’re going to be getting,” Lee said.

Drivers can already face additional fines and driver risk premiums if caught driving under the influence.

Road side tests still remain mandatory if an officer asks you to perform one. Refusing to take the test is a criminal offence and could land you with a big penalty.

Cannabis legalization happens on Oct. 17.

Source: News1130

ICBC urges caution as pedestrian injuries nearly double

Almost double the number of pedestrians are injured in crashes from October to January as the weather changes and daylight hours decrease.*

That’s why today, ICBC is launching a pedestrian safety campaign with police to urge pedestrians and drivers to stay safe as crashes with pedestrians spike at this time of year.

Pedestrian safety is a serious concern in B.C. – they’re the most vulnerable road user to being injured when a crash occurs. Drivers should take extra time to look for pedestrians before turning, avoid distractions and be ready to yield.

Pedestrians can help stay safe by making eye contact, appearing as reflective as possible and only using designated crosswalks.

ICBC and community policing volunteers will be handing out reflectors and safety tips in high pedestrian traffic areas across the province to help pedestrians stay visible.

This year’s campaign features radio and online advertising that reminds drivers: you see pedestrians when you really look for them.

Learn more with ICBC’s infographic and tips.

Quotes:

Chief Constable Neil Dubord, Chair of the B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police Traffic Safety Committee

“Distracted driving and failing to yield the right-of-way remain the top contributing factors for drivers in crashes involving pedestrians. These are dangerous driving behaviours which will not be tolerated by police.”

Lindsay Matthews, ICBC’s interim vice-president responsible for road safety

“Even when drivers proceed with caution, it’s hard to see pedestrians at this time of year when visibility is poor. Crashes with pedestrians are highest between 3pm and 6pm every day, when most of us are commuting home from school and work. Please focus on the road and leave your phone alone. It’s time we all do our part to create a safer driving culture in B.C.”

Regional statistics**:

  • In the Lower Mainland every year, on average, 2,100 crashes involve a pedestrian.

  • On Vancouver Island every year, on average, 370 crashes involve a pedestrian.

  • In the Southern Interior every year, on average, 270 crashes involve a pedestrian.

  • In the North Central region every year, on average, 86 crashes involve a pedestrian.

Editor’s note: Pedestrian involved crash statistics for municipalities are available upon request.

*In B.C., 1,120 pedestrians are injured in crashes between October and January and 640 pedestrians are injured between May and August. ICBC data based on five year average from 2013 to 2017.

**ICBC data based on five year average from 2013 to 2017.

U.S. short seller Muddy Waters takes aim at Manulife Financial Corp.

By Armina Ligaya

THE CANADIAN PRESS

TORONTO _ U.S.-based short-seller Muddy Waters has taken aim at Manulife Financial Corp., warning that an impending trial verdict could lead to “billions of dollars of losses” at the Canadian insurer.

Carson Block, the firm’s head of research, wrote in a report published Thursday that Manulife’s life insurance subsidiary has just concluded a trial that could “significantly damage its earnings, capital, creditworthiness, business, and solvency _ per its own expert’s sworn affidavit.”

“We believe a verdict is likely by the end of this year,” he wrote in the report announcing Muddy Waters’ short position in the firm.

“There are therefore material risks to the financial well-being of MFC. We do not believe investors are aware of these risks, nor do we believe they have been priced into MFC shares.”

Short selling is a trading technique that can produce a profit if a stock’s market value falls below a predetermined price.

Manulife, which has more than 13,000 staff in Canada and a global workforce of roughly 35,000, defended its actions. Manulife also operates as John Hancock in the United States.

“The Muddy Waters report is a short seller’s attempt to profit at the expense of our shareholders, and we disagree with its conclusions,” it said in a statement.

The company said consumers and issuers of universal life policies never intended to have the policies function as deposit or securities contracts.

“We expect we will prevail with respect to this matter and that it will not affect our business operations or our ability to meet obligations to our customers, vendors and other key stakeholders.”

Block whose 2011 report into timber company Sino-Forest triggered an investigation by regulators into what became one of Canada’s largest corporate fraud cases wrote that the trial involves one of Manulife’s insurance contracts purchased in 1997 by a hedge fund called Mosten Investment LP.

The report says that Mosten argues that it can deposit an unlimited amount of money with Manulife through the universal life insurance policy and receive an annualized guaranteed return of at least four per cent with one-month liquidity.

If Mosten prevails with its argument, the hedge fund could sell an unlimited amount of partnership interests backed by the Manulife insurance contract and “likely become the most lucrative money market fund in the developed world!” wrote Block.

“These terms alone could financially cripple Manulife,” he said.

Manulife, however, argues this is counter to the purpose of life insurance, which is to insure mortality risk, according to the report. The insurer also argues, according to Muddy Waters’ report, that insurance companies are not permitted to take deposits and taking unlimited premiums for deposit as investment would be illegal.

Block said Manulife’s argument  “strains credulity” as the product in question had an investment component.

“Insurance companies for some time have been blurring the line between insurance and investment, and universal life seems to me to be an example of such an attempt to blur the line,” he said in a phone interview from San Francisco.

Manulife, Canada’s largest life insurer by market value, said Thursday that Mosten’s position is “legally unfounded.”

Shares of Manulife closed down 65 cents, or 2.80 per cent at $22.54 on the Toronto Stock Exchange. The stock was down as much as four per cent earlier in the day to $22.23.

Manulife’s stock performance has already been weighed down recently, including by negative issues in the industry regarding long-term care insurance, said Gabriel Dechaine, an analyst with National Bank Financial.

“While we are happy to see the company take a confident position, we cannot overlook how this issue is adding to an already “noisy” year for MFC,“ he said in a note to clients on Thursday.

BC Court of Appeal ~ “Segregated” Non-Pecuniary Awards Should be Avoided

Several years ago it was more common to see BC courts awarding damages for ‘diminished housekeeping capacity‘ as a stand alone head of damage in injury litigation.  More recently the common practice is for courts to roll these in to the general damages awarded for non-pecuniary loss without a stand alone analysis.  Last week the BC Court of Appeal published reasons indicating the latter is the preferred practice.

In the recent case (Riley v. Ritsco) the Plaintiff was injured in a vehicle collision and sued for damages.  At trial non-pecuniary damages of $65,000 were assessed.  The Plaintiff successfully appealed and in doing so the BC Court of Appeal increased this head of damage to $85,000.  The Plaintiff also argued that the judge erred in not assessing damages for loss of housekeeping capacity as a stand alone head of damage.  In finding no error occured here the BC Court of Appeal provided the following guidance:

[101]     It is now well-established that where a plaintiff’s injuries lead to a requirement that they pay for housekeeping services, or where the services are routinely performed for them gratuitously by family members or friends, a pecuniary award is appropriate. Where the situation does not meet the requirements for a pecuniary award, a judge may take the incapacity into account in assessing the award for non‑pecuniary damages.

[102]     I acknowledge what was said in Kroeker about segregated non-pecuniary awards “where the special facts of a case” warrant them. In my view, however, segregated non-pecuniary awards should be avoided in the absence of special circumstances. There is no reason to slice up a general damages award into individual components addressed to particular aspects of a plaintiff’s lifestyle. While such an award might give an illusion of precision, or suggest that the court has been fastidious in searching out heads of damages, it serves no real purpose. An assessment of non-pecuniary damages involves a global assessment of the pain and suffering, loss of amenities, and loss of enjoyment of life suffered by a plaintiff. By its nature, it is a rough assessment and not a mathematical exercise.

[103]     The $85,000 figure that I have proposed for non-pecuniary loss takes into account all of the general damages the plaintiff has suffered and will suffer. It should not be augmented by a segregated award for loss of housekeeping capacity.

Drivers’ licence suspension system ‘fundamentally flawed’: Ontario ombudsman

By Peter Cameron

THE CANADIAN PRESS

TORONTO _ Ontario’s ombudsman says the system for notifying drivers that their licence has been suspended is  “fundamentally flawed” leaving many people unwittingly driving with invalid licences.

In a report released on Thursday, Paul Dube makes 42 recommendations designed to make the system fairer and keep drivers better informed of their status.

Dube says the Ministry of Transportation has already begun to address the recommendations and overhaul the way it notifies drivers whose licences are suspended for unpaid fines.

For example, Dube says one woman was shocked to learn in 2016 that her licence had been cancelled four years earlier over a speeding ticket.

Although she had paid the fine, she was unaware she had to pay a licence reinstatement fee, and said she never received any notice that her licence was invalid.

The report says it ultimately cost her several days off work and hundreds of dollars to reinstate her licence, because the ministry required her to go through the graduated licence system meant for novice drivers.

About 90,000 Ontario drivers have their licences suspended for unpaid fines every year, Dube said.

“In 2017, an estimated 5,000 of the notices that were mailed to them were returned to the ministry, undelivered … but the ministry doesn’t track returned mail so it has no record of which drivers didn’t get the notices,” he said.

“We have heard from drivers who went for years without knowing their licences were suspended,” Dube said.

“When they finally found out, it was through their insurance company or police, not the ministry _ which then treated them as brand new drivers, requiring them to go through the graduated licencing program to have their licences reinstated,” he said.

“Even when the system works as intended, we found it is fundamentally flawed,” the ombudsman said.

Drivers are only ever warned that failure to pay fines “may” not “will” result in licence suspension and suspensions take effect on the day they are mailed before drivers receive them, he said.

Dube noted he will monitor this issue as the ministry reports back to his office every six months on its progress in implementing the recommendations.

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