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MSP premiums not ‘entirely fair’, Premier Clark admits

Christy Clark says British Columbia will attempt to make MSP premiums fairer in the next budget while defending this year’s changes.

B.C. Finance Minister Michael de Jong shakes hands with Premier Christy Clark after delivering a balanced budget speech for a fourth year in a row at Legislative Assembly, in Victoria on Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

B.C. Finance Minister Michael de Jong shakes hands with Premier Christy Clark after delivering a balanced budget speech for a fourth year in a row at Legislative Assembly, in Victoria on Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016.

Premier Christy Clark admits British Columbia’s Medical Services Plan premiums scheme isn’t fair or logical a day after releasing the 2016/17 provincial budget.

Exempting children from the payments and raising the income threshold for full premium assistance by $2,000 was one of the government’s top selling points in the budget.

However, revenues from MSP premiums are still slated to rise to $2.5 billion thanks to less advertised changes to premiums, such as the annual four per cent increases in rates and making previously discounted couples pay twice the MSP premium rate paid by single adults (which the government’s own budget document says will result in a $14 a month increase in premiums for about 530,000 couples).

Critics immediately seized on the hike.

NDP leader John Horgan accused the government of playing a “shell game” and using the extra revenues to prop up Clark’s new Prosperity Fund, originally intended for funds generated by liquefied natural gas royalties.

Canadian Taxpayers Federation B.C. director Jordan Bateman likened it to a family restaurant marketing gimmick.

“Kids eat free, but we’ve jacked up adult meal prices,” Bateman wrote in an op-ed on the CTF website.

Speaking to media on Wednesday, Clark promised to address some of those issues in the next budget.

“[Premiums aren’t] entirely fair or even logical,” she said. “What we tried to do in this budget is, first of all, excuse two million people from paying it. So 40 per cent of the population will not pay MSP at all. That’s the most important thing in the budget.”

Clark said premiums will be cheaper for a further 335,000 people but admitted more work could be done.

Last week, Clark admitted the system was “antiquated” but said it would take more time to make wholesale changes to MSP.

Unlike the majority of the country, which funds health care exclusively from general revenues, British Columbia has yet to ditch the regressive, flat rate, head tax-like payments, according to University of British Columbia School of Population and Public Health associate professor Kim McGrail.

Keeping MSP premiums around is definitely a policy choice she said, but still only account for a small part of the province’s overall health care funding.

Total spending on health across all ministries is forecast to be nearly $20 billion, according to the budget.

“Any debate [on effective health care systems] comes down to the distributing of funds,” McGrail said.

She believes that when it comes to integrating health care services and improving communication between providers, there is a political will in B.C. to make changes.

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