We’ve recently been hearing a number of misleading claims about the administration of the Special Diet Allowance program – such as the notion that doctors “just fill out the forms for people because benefit rates are so low” or that the program is “a controversial loophole that supplemented payments on the strength of a doctor’s note”.
These criticisms are old news. They may reflect practices that existed in the past, but under current conditions these statements are inaccurate and inappropriate.
And we’re concerned that these misleading ideas are being circulated shortly after a recommendation has been made to government to end the program and use the money to pay for an increase in basic social assistance rates.
We’d like to put these claims to rest with the following few points:
- Since 2011, the government has significantly changed the Special Diet Allowance (SDA) criteria and administrative procedures for the specific purpose of improving program integrity. This includes creating detailed diagnostic criteria to guide health care providers in completing SDA application forms, using allowance amounts recommended by the government’s own Special Diets Expert Review Committee, and giving the Ministry the authority to ask for further verification where there are questions about eligibility.
- The College of Physicians and Surgeons has made it clear that those doctors who complete applications for Special Diet without first confirming that patients actually have a medical condition or conditions, as listed on the schedule, would fall below the standards of professional conduct and could be disciplined.
- The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario has said the SDA promotes substantive equality within ODSP and OW by recognizing that the basic dietary requirements of certain persons lead to higher costs than others. It is designed to assist in alleviating the disadvantage of persons who have additional dietary costs because of a medical disability.
- The SDA program is based on the premise that people with certain medical conditions require specific, therapeutic dietary interventions that cost more than a regular, healthy diet. SDA isan essential program to ensure the health of many ill and vulnerable people across Ontario.
- The conditions covered by the SDA include those that have been identified by the Ministry of Health as a priority in terms of preventive care – diabetes and hypertension being just two examples. Ontario is facing an epidemic in these kinds of conditions. For these conditions, changing one’s diet is the first line of medical treatment and much more cost-effective than medication and hospitalization. Removing the ability of people on social assistance to afford the diets that they need to treat these conditions will simply increase costs to the health care system.
- Cutting the allowance from low-income Ontarians who are ill to redistribute the funds to other low-income people makes no sense from either a policy or a social justice perspective. Such a move would simply be a cut in benefits that will have both short term and longer term negative consequences.
- Government made a commitment to social assistance reform in 2008, in Ontario’s first-ever Poverty Reduction Strategy. Recommendations for reform are now under active consideration. But starting the process of reforming the system by cutting benefits will send a highly negative message about the government’s intentions.
We encourage you to share this information with your friends, colleagues, local MPPs, local media, and others engaged or interested in advocacy around social assistance reform.
Download this document here: Special Diet Allowance - A Loophole or a Lifeline? - 2013