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Calls for UCP to stop penalizing Alberta drivers for turning 75

The opposition NDP and seniors themselves are demanding the government remove fees for seniors' driver medical exams.

Alberta’s NDP is demanding the UCP government stop charging Albertans extra fees for turning 75 years old, i.e. seniors’ driver medical exams, and vocal seniors in the province are urging the same.

"Oil and gas revenues are up, and government coffers are full. How much money are they making from charging seniors to get a driver's exam, and where is that money going?" asked Edmonton's Pat Moffitt, 80, who says she got quite a shock at the doctor's office when she was charged to take her driving exam. “I told the nurse I didn’t know it would cost me $100 to turn 80."

In 2020, the UCP government made changes to physician compensation policies that no longer allowed doctors to bill the government for seniors’ driver medical exams. The exams are mandatory for Albertans at age 75, age 80, and every two years after that. 

Previously, the Government of Alberta covered the cost of the exams for approximately 45,000 seniors every year. Under the UCP, seniors pay anywhere from $85 to $150.

I'm in favour of seniors taking the exam, making sure they're fit to drive, but the government is nickel-diming us with this fee. I carpool for the Beacon Heights Seniors group, driving people to appointments or a restaurant, for groceries or to deliver hampers--even just for a drive," added Moffitt, who said she'll continue driving her beloved Mazda for as long as she's able. "I've been driving since I was 23. Driving is freedom; it offers independence. I don't have to ask for a ride to get my husband to his doctor's appointment or to bring some music over to sit in the backyard with a lonely senior through our kindness club. 

"Is the government just taking advantage of some of the most vulnerable because they think we won't fight back or stand up for ourselves? This fee feels like the UCP is penalizing seniors for getting older. Seniors built this province. We're the largest group of volunteers--an important part of making things function," she added. "Maybe volunteers should run this government."

“The UCP’s decision in 2020 to stop allowing doctors to bill the government for this exam is just one of many policies hurting seniors,” said Lori Sigurdson, Alberta NDP Seniors Critic.

“The UCP kicked tens of thousands of Albertans off of the Seniors Drug Plan, eliminated the role of a dedicated Seniors Advocate, de-indexed the Alberta Seniors’ Benefit and then cut funding for seniors housing. It's turning seniors’ dreams of spending their later years in comfort into a nightmare.”

An Angus Reid poll released in late August shows some 86 per cent of Albertans have cut spending in recent months by delaying major purchases, driving less, scaling back travel and charitable donations or deferring saving for the future.

“These costs add up--exam fee, insurance, registration, gas--and can be insurmountable for some. Seniors deserve to enjoy this time of their lives, and to live with dignity," added Moffitt. 

Lethbridge senior Tom Walton added his voice to the chorus for change this week, citing high costs for energy, food, fuel, transportation and medication as hardships for seniors. "My wife and I, along with thousands of Albertans, are bombarded with increases that significantly strain our budgets," he said.

As well, Sigurdson pointed out that seniors' benefits don't keep pace with inflation, so their incomes actually go down over time.

“There is an election coming and should the Alberta NDP be fortunate enough to form the next government, we will stop this gouging of seniors," Sigurdson said. "We will make sure no senior has to pay out of pocket for these medicals.”

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Are you a senior who drives? What are your thoughts on the continuing fees for seniors' driver medical exams? Let us know at lhaines@prime.greatwest.ca