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Forty Dead While BC Government Denies Health Benefits
 

THE British Columbia Persons With AIDS Society is screaming bloody murder.  And it's screaming at the BC government.

"Forty people with AIDS have died during lengthy battles with the provincial government to secure crucial health benefits," said the BCPWA in a statement this morning.

"Over two years ago we told the government to make changes.  They knew people were dying.  Itís now apparent that fiscal concerns are being placed above people's lives," declared executive director Glen Hillson.

The issue is the continuing denial by the BC Ministry of Social Development and Economic Security of applications for additional health benefits made by PWAs.   BC residents - as is the case across Canada - who are unable to work for health reasons and have no disability benefits from previous employment qualify for financial support under a section of the provincial social assistance program.

But the measly monthly allowance is so low it cannot cover the expenses of additional health products and services which could help sustain the lives of PWAs.  Canada is already in violation of United Nations covenants by having its basic social assistance amounts less than the documented costs of food and shelter in at least one province.

The BC Ministry's 'Schedule C,' a part of the Benefits Program that provides health care goods or services for 'life threatening health needs,' exists to pick up the difference for social assistance recipients disabled due to health.  But it is applications from PWAs for these benefits which are being denied by the Ministry.

An advisory panel was commissioned by the BC government in order to make recommendations.  A report was submitted by the panel last fall.

Mr. Hillson was on that panel, and is outraged that the government has yet to respond to the recommendations made in the report.

"We know the Minister (Jan Pullinger) and local MLA (Tim Stevenson) favour [the] report initiated by the government to fix the problem," he continued in the statement - which went on to say, "At an estimated cost of 17 million dollars to fully implement the report, it is widely believed she canít get the Treasury Board on-side to support it."

All 40 individuals who died in the interim were in receipt of disability benefits from the Ministry.

"Even though all provided extensive medical evidence from their doctors indicating they had life threatening health needs the Ministry turned down their requests outright ... some appealed the denial to tribunals," the BCPWA added.

It's a disgrace that this provincial government life saving health services through an appeal process which they ultimately lose 100% of the time.

  - Glen Hillson of BCPWA
 
In all cases the tribunals directed the Ministry to grant the health benefits, according to BCPWA.

"Tragically, they all faced another hurdle when these tribunal rulings were appealed by [the Ministry] to the BC Benefits Appeal Board.  During this lengthy process they all died," BCPWA said.

At a press conference in Vancouver this morning the advisory panel's report was released by BCPWA.  It was done "to expose this disgrace to the public," said Mr. Hillson in an interview.

"It's a disgrace that this provincial government has placed such a low price on the value of human lives and that they waste money denying people life saving health services through an appeal process which they ultimately lose 100% of the time," Mr. Hillson told gayottawanow.com

According to BCPWA the Ministry claims it is appealing all these cases to avoid the long-term costs of paying monthly health allowances.  However, since 1997, they have lost 100% of their appeals (265) to the BC Benefits Appeal Board and spent over $500,000 doing so.

Social Development and Economic Security Minister Jan Pullinger has met with BCPWA since the advisory panel's submission of its report last fall.  Mr. Hillson said at that time she promised to meet with the full panel.

Nothing's been heard since, and now the Ministry's not returning BCPWA's calls.

BCPWA is calling on the BC government to fully implement the report's recommendations that the benefits be provided, and is urging minister Jan Pullinger to give authority to District Supervisors to approve such requests at the initial application stage.

A call to the minister's office was not immediately returned.