MSP rates changes not good enough: Macdonald

The provincial government has some new breaks on MSP premiums for certain residents, but MLA Norm Macdonald says not enough

The provincial government has announced some new breaks on Medical Service Plan (MSP) premiums for certain residents, but NDP Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald says the measures are not enough and that the government should scrap the whole premium system altogether.

“MSP payments are a really unfair way of raising money to pay for health care. Basically, it’s a flat tax. It’s the same for a millionaire as for a middle-class family. No other province uses it any more,” he said.

The provincial Liberal government recently announced changes to MSP and premium assistance that will take effect in 2017, which aim to help lower-income families, individuals and seniors.

According to a government press release, about 335,000 people across the province will see their premiums reduced, and an additional 45,000 people will no longer pay premiums at all in 2017.

Once the new MSP changes take effect in 2017, a single senior earning as much as $45,000 may qualify for reduced premiums, and a senior couple earning as much as $51,000 may qualify for reduced premiums. This translates into a savings of up to $480 per year for a senior couple and $324 per year for a single senior, according to the release.

At the moment, a single senior can qualify for assistance with net income of $33,000 a year or less, and for a single senior with income less than $25,000, the premium is waived. Under the new rules, a single senior could qualify for premium assistance with net income of up to $45,000 a year, and pay no premiums if their net income is less than $27,000. Macdonald could not confirm how many local seniors or lower-income families in Columbia River-Revelstoke might benefit from the changes.

He is critical not only of the system, but that the changes proposed will not take effect for another 10 months.

“It is fairly limited in terms of who (the changes) impacts and, in actual fact, most people will see additional costs. Certainly this year (2016) that’s all they will see,” he said. “What needs to happen is what Alberta did some years ago and simply eliminate it (MSP payments) and have it incorporated into income tax, which is graduated, so that those who make less, pay less.”

Macdonald said there is agreement among all parties in all provinces except B.C. that health care costs should be incorporated into income tax, or otherwise paid in a graduated manner, and added that despite the promises of payment reductions in 2017, the provincial government will still collect $100 million more through MSP payments this year than it did last.

According to the government press release, a one-time application must be filled out specifically for the premium assistance program. Retroactive assistance may be provided for up to the previous six years. A calculator is also available on the government website to help B.C. residents figure out whether or not they qualify for premium  assistance, either now or in 2017. To visit the calculator, see https://extranet.gov.bc.ca/forms/gov/health/msppa.html.

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