Media call averts stealth cuts to medical benefits for Nova Scotians with disabilities

The Nova Scotia Department of Community Services (DCS) backed off a clandestine plan to cut medical services for disabled Nova Scotians living in special care homes late Friday Thursday afternoon, hours before it was to take effect.

The province had planned to implement the unannounced cuts over the Canada Day long weekend, but shelved the plan hours after the Canadian Press News Agency sought comment from DCS Minister Denise Peterson-Rafuse. Operators of special care homes were told the policy was “on hold” in late afternoon emails from frontline care coordinators.

The policy would have curtailed coverage for a wide range of medical benefits including dental care, drugs, and medical supplies.

In one case, workers caring for an elderly diabetic who receives a living allowance of just $125 per month were told his daily insulin injections would no longer be covered, because the type of insulin prescribed for his hard-to-control blood-sugar levels is not on a list of approved drugs. The man, who has a developmental handicap, leads an active life and is beloved by his community.

Another agency was told the province would no longer pay for an anti-seizure medication required by one of its residents.

The new policy would have required pre-approval for most items, including annual dental cleanings. It was developed without consultation with caregivers, operators of special needs homes, or the disabled residents themselves. Frontline DCS workers were still receiving training in the new restrictions as late as yesterday.

Governments often choose to announce controversial measures as holiday weekends are getting underway. In this case, the department didn’t announced the planned cuts at all, although it did find time Wednesday to issue a news release trumpeting increased payments to welfare recipients, also set to take place July 1.

Tipped to the new policy by a mainland organization that operates several special care homes, Canadian Press sought comment from Peterson-Rafuse. She was unavailable, as were all of her key officials. Notoriously sensitive to bad publicity, the Dexter Government closely monitors media requests, with responses tightly controlled from the premier’s office.

The CP inquiry apparently set off alarm bells. At 3:54 p.m., Friday Thursday, a DCS official emailed a dozen operators of special care homes in Cape Breton a one-line email: “Sorry. We just got an email saying that this is now on hold. Continue as we have been.”

DCS coordinators had earlier been told not to let operators of special needs homes see copies of the seven highly technical documents that spell out the new policy. Contrarian obtained copies this evening, and we have posted them to our website: