In January 2015 the Good Health Committee at the Monterey Seniors’ Centre invited me to a conversation on health care. The seniors I talked to were profoundly concerned about our province’s regressive approach of charging flat-rate Medical Services Plan premiums and the impact this policy was having on their ability to make ends meet.
I spoke publically about the issues raised in that meeting and, in the months that followed, heard from thousands of British Columbians who agreed it was time to replace MSP premiums with a fair and equitable system.
We all know health care costs money and there’s no denying that we need to support our medical services. However, MSP premiums are a regressive tax – what you pay is not based on what you make and it is hurting those who can least afford it.
Currently, anyone living in B.C. for six months or longer is required to pay monthly premiums for health care coverage. While some individuals can apply for premium assistance, these subsidies dry up as soon as a person earns a net annual income of $30,000 or more.
Indeed, those who earn $30,000 a year pay the same rate for their MSP premiums as someone who earns $3 million a year. It is also important to note that many large employers pay all or part of an employee’s MSP premium as part of a negotiated taxable benefit of employment. But many, if not most, low- and fixed-income British Columbians, as well as small business owners, are left paying the costs themselves.
Added to this, MSP premiums have been going up constantly. There has been a 40 per cent increase in MSP rates since 2010. As of Jan. 1 the new rate for a family of three is $150/month, up from $142/month.
So… what can we do about it?
My suggestion is to roll a progressive version of MSP premiums into our income tax system, much like Ontario did in 2004.
In Ontario if you earn $20,000 or more a year you pay the Ontario Health Premium (OHP). It ranges from $0 if your taxable income is $20,000 or less, and goes up to $900 per year (the standard B.C. rate) if your taxable income is more than $200,600. Instead of the mail-out system we have in B.C., the OHP is deducted from the pay and pensions of those with employment or pension income that meet the minimum threshold.
I have spoken to the minister of health and the minister of finance about moving away from this regressive system, and earlier this year I presented a petition with 65,000 signatures calling for the abolition of MSP premiums in our province. To their credit, the government has made some positive changes to MSP premiums in the province in their last budget that will come into force in January 2017, but overall we still have a uniquely unfair system.
Recently. I hosted a town hall on seniors and health care and invited B.C.’s Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie to join me. She was able to give a presentation on many important issues facing seniors, and the issue of MSP premiums came up. Although many seniors can qualify for premium assistance, she said, only 39 per cent even know it is an option. The discussion raised many important points on the challenges seniors face in this province, but fixing the MSP system in B.C. is an easy place to start.
If you want more information on my office’s work please visit my website at www.andrewweavermla.ca or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Andrew Weaver is the MLA for Oak Bay Gordon Head.