Hundreds of thousands of people are not registered or in arrears on their Medical Services Plan fees. They are treated anyway.

BC VIEWS: Take MSP off life support

Premier Christy Clark and Finance Minister Mike de Jong claim that medical fees send message that health care isn't free

The B.C. Liberal government made a big show of selectively easing Medical Services Plan fees in its budget for the coming election year.

In what is becoming a pattern for Premier Christy Clark, the biggest beneficiaries are single parents. The new MSP is calculated for adults only, so a single parent with two children saves as much as $1,200 a year.

Premium assistance is expanded, with discounts for single people making up to $42,000, rather than $30,000. But for singles, couples and seniors who don’t qualify for discounts, the rate is going up another four per cent effective Jan. 1, 2017.

Indeed, with population growth, the finance ministry expects its take from MSP premiums to rise every year, reaching $2.5 billion in the coming years.

MSP revenue covers about 17 per cent of B.C.’s health budget, and Clark and Finance Minister Mike de Jong insist that Canada’s only direct health care charge is a vital signal to people that health care isn’t free.

This argument has failed.

One seldom-discussed fact is that for half of the people charged MSP, it’s paid by their employers. In private sector terms it’s a hefty payroll tax, creating one more obstacle for businesses to hire full-time staff with benefits.

So most full-time employees don’t receive this supposedly vital signal, unless they get laid off because their employer is losing money.

Also note that politicians and public sector employees have never paid MSP premiums. Their employers, taxpayers, pick up the tab for them.

People who have to pay out of pocket are what the bureaucracy calls “pay direct accounts.” Jordan Bateman of the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation recently revealed that nearly 400,000 of these accounts are currently in arrears by more than 30 days, owing a grand total of $457 million.

Of course this is Canada, so even if you haven’t paid or even registered for MSP, you still get treatment at the hospital. Another potential signal lost in the noise.

For people who lose their jobs, MSP is like being kicked when they are down. Their employer stops paying, and the slow-moving bureaucracy charges them based on their income from the previous year.

There was a fuss in 2004 after the B.C. Liberals contracted out MSP administration to a Virginia-based back-office specialist, delightfully named Maximus Corporation.

Now Maximus goes after delinquent MSP accounts with collection agency tactics, and attempts to keep up with the comings and goings from other provinces and countries.

Opposition parties decry the continued inequity of the MSP premium system, which charges the same for a single person making $45,000 or $450,000 a year.

NDP leader John Horgan rails about inequality and accuses Clark of using MSP revenues to establish her prosperity “slush fund,” but he stops short of calling for the elimination of MSP premiums.

One would expect the NDP to lead another “axe the tax” campaign, as they did with the carbon tax and the HST, but they aren’t. Perhaps this is because workers for this unnecessary Maximus machine remain members of the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union.

Green Party leader Andrew Weaver has it right. He staged a popular petition drive to roll MSP premiums into income tax. If the government wants to send a message, it can interrupt its continuous “Jobs Plan” advertising.

Scrapping MSP and raising income tax rates on higher brackets to compensate would fix the private sector payroll deterrent, make salaried employees (including me) pay their share, and end a tax break for the wealthy.

Don’t hold your breath.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

 

Just Posted

Elkford ED closure “unusual”

The 24-hour closure of the Elkford emergency department has been described as an “unusual situation”.

Two fires of note burning in Southeast Fire Centre

As of Saturday afternoon there were more than 20 fires burning in the Southeast Fire Centre.

Fires highlight need for more volunteers

Short-staffed volunteer fire departments in Elk Valley, South Country rely on mutual aid

Motorcyclist grateful to be alive, thanks fellow drivers

Over a dozen people stopped to assist Lori Hann after she tumbled off her bike on Hwy 3, Saturday

Local athletes ready for BC Summer Games

Twenty-four athletes from the Elk Valley and South Country will compete at the 2018 BC Summer Games.

BC Games: Day 3 wrap and closing ceremonies

The torch in the Cowichan Valley has been extinguished as Fort St. John gets ready to host the 2020 BC Winter Games

The Free Press editor wins awards

Editor Phil McLachlan has been recognized at the 2018 Canadian Community Newspaper Awards.

Police confirm girl, 8 others injured in Toronto shooting; shooter dead

Paramedics said many of the victims in Danforth, including a child, were rushed to trauma centres

Why do they do it? Coaches guide kids to wins, personal bests at the BC Games

Behind the 2,300 B.C. athletes are the 450 coaches who dedicate time to help train, compete

Government sets full-time salary range for Justin Trudeau’s nanny

At its top range, the order works out to a rate of $21.79 per hour, assuming a 40-hour work week

Lower Mainland teams battle for baseball gold at BC Games

Vancouver Coastal squeaked out a 3-2 win against Fraser Valley

The Northern Secwepemc te Qelmucw people signed an agreement-in-principle with the B.C. government

The signing ceremony, at the Eliza Archie Memorial School, was 25 years in the making

Canada to resettle dozens of White Helmets and their families from Syria

There are fears the volunteers would become a target for government troops

Francesco Molinari wins British Open at Carnoustie

It is his first win at a major and the first by an Italian

Most Read