Budget Re-introduced: More Comment Required
The new Ontario government re-introduced the 2014 provincial Budget yesterday – the same Budget that was originally introduced on May 1.
The Budget includes a social assistance rate increase, with proportionally more going to singles on OW and a continuation on the freeze on rates for the family members of people with disabilities on ODSP. It also includes a new Remote Communities Allowance that replaces and is higher than the Northern Allowance, and consolidation of seven OW and ODSP employment-related benefits. As well, it includes an additional $42 million in annual funding for the Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative (CHPI) program, and a number of investments in other poverty-related areas.
Our original response to the Budget is available by clicking here. And here are responses from our partners at Ontario Campaign 2000 and the 25in5 Network for Poverty Reduction.
But there’s one additional issue that requires comment. The 2014 Budget also includes new money to hire additional Disability Adjudication Unit staff to increase the number of medical reviews for people on ODSP.
Medical reviews have always been part of the ODSP program. Many people are assigned a medical review date when their application for ODSP is approved, based on the nature of their condition and when it could improve. But for many years, the Ministry of Community and Social Services (MCSS) did not do required medical reviews because of lack of resources. So there are many people receiving ODSP who were assigned a review date but whose files have never been reviewed.
MCSS has been under pressure for many years to start doing medical reviews again, including in two reports from the Auditor General. In February 2013, MCSS re-started medical reviews. As of April 2013 they started doing 300 medical reviews each month. This past January 2014, the number of medical reviews increased to 600 each month. Half of these reviews are for people whose reviews are current (in other words, their review dates are just coming up) and half are from the backlog of people whose reviews should have been done a long time ago. The new money in the 2014 Budget to hire additional staff will again increase the number of medical reviews done each month.
Medical reviews are integral to a system that allows people whose disabilities may not be permanent to get support. We would not want to have a system that doesn’t allow people who have short-term disabilities or conditions that might show improvement to be eligible.
The fact that medical reviews exist in the system is not the problem. The problem is in the way that medical reviews are done and the difficulty that people will have in completing them.
Medical reviews require people with disabilities on ODSP to complete a new Disability Determination Package – the same paperwork that they had to complete when they first applied for ODSP. We – and many others – have said many times that the application process for ODSP is very difficult, and often too difficult for many people with disabilities to navigate on their own. This is especially the case for people who don’t have a family doctor and/or don’t have access to medical specialists. So not only have we been advocating for an easier application system, we have also been advocating for a different process for medical reviews. There should be a simpler way of evaluating whether a person’s condition has in fact improved.
And medical reviews should not be used to contain costs by reducing the number of people who are eligible for benefits. The number of people relying on ODSP benefits has been increasing in recent years, and MCSS has expressed concern several times about the increasing costs that come with more people on the program. If the government is concerned about the increasing number of people relying on ODSP, they should look at changes in other programs, like workers compensation (WSIB) and other disability benefit systems to see whether their failures to support people with disabilities are actually the cause.
The increase in medical reviews will mean a lot more stress for people with disabilities.There will be more pressure on the services available to help them with the process, like those available at local community legal clinics. There will also be more pressure on doctors and other medical professionals to provide the medical information required by the process. And there is nothing in the Budget to provide resources to agencies and organizations that will be helping people on ODSP to get through the medical review process.
Information about the ODSP application process may be helpful for people going through a medical review. Check these pamphlets from Community Legal Education Ontario (CLEO):
- A good pamphlet for people applying is available at:http://www.cleo.on.ca/en/publications/disabben
- And one for medical professionals is at: http://www.cleo.on.ca/en/publications/ods-prof
There is also information about medical reviews on the MCSS website here:http://www.mcss.gov.on.ca/en/mcss/programs/social/odsp/income_support/odsp_medical.aspx
We will distribute more information and resources on this and other Budget-related issues as they become available.