Progressive lenses. What you need to know


‘Whoo!’ Progressive lenses now partly covered for seniors, Indigenous patients in N.W.T.

N.W.T. Health Minister Glen Abernethy makes surprise announcement in legislative assembly Tuesday

By Guy Quenneville, CBC News Posted: Feb 15, 2017 11:04 AM CT Last Updated: Feb 15, 2017 11:21 AM CT


“Whoo!” he added, raising both of his thumbs.

Reimbursed up to $100

The change applies to two groups covered under two different systems. 

Coverage for First Nations and Inuit patients who are not insured elsewhere comes from Health Canada’s Non-Insured Health Benefits (NIHB) program, which is administered by the territorial government.

The N.W.T.’s own Supplementary Health Benefits system, which provides the same coverage as the NIHB plan, covers people aged 60 and over plus Métis residents who are not covered by NIHB or the N.W.T.’s program for seniors.  

Patients will now be reimbursed up to a maximum of $100. They’ll have to pay the remaining difference between the cost of bifocal and progressive lenses.

Progressive lenses are often required by older adults — a segment of the N.W.T.’s population that is expected to grow significantly in the years to come.  

A sudden development

Tuesday’s announcement caught MLAs by surprise.

“I’m going to let the minister personally deliver that good news to a couple of constituents who have already shelled out of their own pockets for progressive lenses,” said Kevin O’Reilly, the MLA for Yellowknife’s Frame Lake riding.

Abernethy says Health Canada’s decision to cover the lenses came as a surprise to him too. 

In November, Abernethy told MLAs the N.W.T. was still advocating for the change.

“We intend to raise this as an issue and we hope that they would modify their [program] to include things like progressive lenses so that we can ensure that our residents, both aboriginal and non-aboriginal, young, old, seniors, are getting the lenses they need,” he said at the time.

But on Tuesday, Abernethy said he was suddenly informed by Health Canada in late January that progressive lenses would now be covered under NIHB.

“Apparently in December as I was writing letters to MLAs and others saying, you know, progressive lenses aren’t covered, the federal government was in the process of changing their [program] to cover progressive lenses,” he said.

He went on to criticize the federal government.

“We just keep trying to encourage them to make reasonable choices and to apply common sense. Unfortunately, common sense is so rare, it might as well be a superpower.”