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AISH benefit card delays frustrate MLA

St. Albert MLA Marie Renaud says she'd like to see AISH payment dates switched back to before the end of the month, and a new system for medical service cards.
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Update

This story was updated at 3:44 p.m. on April 21 with information from Community and Social Services.

Alison Grozli said her family didn’t receive her husband’s Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) benefits card until April 9.

“Normally we do get it on the first. I went to the mailbox and we were surprised it wasn't there because we normally always get it on the first,” said Grozli, who lives in Lac Ste. Anne County.

The Grozlis weren’t the only ones to receive their AISH benefits card late. St. Albert MLA Marie Renaud, the NDP Critic for Community and Social Services, said her office received over 50 complaints about late cards this month.

Renaud said late benefit cards and late AISH payments have become a common situation for people since the government changed the payment dates in March 2020. Previously, AISH recipients received payments a few days before the month ended; under the new schedule, they received payments on the first day of each month.

“What we've seen ever since (the payment date change) is that every time there's a long weekend, there seem to be problems. People aren't getting things on time; people aren't getting their deposits until several days after, so rents are late. The other thing that goes with the deposit is every month, people get a new medical services card. It's the same looking card but it's a different date,” she said.

Late medical benefit cards are not common and the Easter long weekend contributed to the delay in delivery of the cards, said Rob Williams, the press secretary for Community and Social Services.

If the cards are delayed, there are steps people can take to access their benefits.

“Clients can still easily access their medications from a pharmacy without the physical card. They just have to provide their AISH file number. Clients should also contact their caseworker to ensure they get the care they need,” he said.

People use the medical card to access prescription medication, dental, vision and health benefits. The cards are only valid for one month. If a person needed prescription medication and their new card is late, they might have issues filling the prescription.

“Let's say you had a dental appointment and you needed to pay for a filling and your card was expired, then you would have to pay for it yourself ... So, anything timing-wise, any kind of health services that someone wants to access without a new card, they just wouldn't be covered,” Renaud explained.

Grozli, whose husband has Parkinson-plus syndrome, said despite having had many other issues with AISH, the late benefits card didn't affect them.

“We have pretty much everything set up already. We have a permanent pharmacy and our doctors and everybody – it's pretty much set up so that the only way we would really need it is if we went to a new pharmacy,” said Grozli.

Grozli doesn’t understand why they have to replace the cards every month for someone like her husband who has a terminal illness.

“I don't know why they can't just hand you a plastic card or credit card, kind of like your Alberta Health Care kind of card, and be done with it – then you wouldn't have to do this every month,” said Grozli.

Renaud said when it comes to the benefits cards most people will likely be fine because of how well their pharmacists know them.

“Thankfully, there are a lot of pharmacists that have developed relationships with people on AISH or Income Support and maybe they understand that, but that's not the case for everyone,” she said.

One solution Renaud has been asking the government for is to change the payment dates back to give people a buffer period. Under the old system, people had a three-day buffer.

“The hope was because there's always something that's going to go wrong, so that gave people, the system, enough time to respond to the problems. Whereas the first payment date doesn't give any time,” she said.

Renaud is also suggesting a new system for the medical service cards.

“I would hope at some point that we figure out a system so that we're not constantly having to replace cards ... but again, I don't have access to all of their information and data. So, I would just be suggesting they need to do something because this system is broken,” she stated.

Renaud said the current system is old, plugged and placed with band-aids.

“It's an old system that's broken in a lot of ways and this is one of them. I think originally, they probably did that because people moved on and off AISH fairly regularly, and especially income support ... people (are) constantly moving on and off. So maybe that was a way to make sure the medical services that were covered were accurate. But, I mean, in this day and age there's got to be a better system.”