News / Vancouver

B.C. diabetics 'up in arms' over tax credit cut

Type 1 patients hope to inject transparency into Ottawa, but Canada Revenue insists rules haven't changed

Kat Grossman, a Vancouver resident with Type 1 diabetes, tests her blood-sugar levels.

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Courtesy Victoria Schwab

Kat Grossman, a Vancouver resident with Type 1 diabetes, tests her blood-sugar levels.

Vancouver resident Kat Grossman, 27, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes five years ago.

Now, like many Canadians who share her chronic disease, she wants to know why her application for a disability tax credit suddenly hit a dead end this year — without explanation.

“Based on the information we received,” Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) informed her in August, three months after she applied, “we are unable to determine if you are eligible.”

The construction administrator told Metro she’d learned about the tax credit while taking part in a diabetes technology study “a few years ago,” but finally applied for it in May.

“The savings would have really helped,” she said. “I would have opened a retirement disability savings plan, because it’s a disease that will deteriorate with time — I can work now, but I might not be able to in the future.”

So her family doctor helped her fill out and signed off on the application and spreadsheets detailing how many hours she spends dealing with her illness every week — easily exceeding the minimum of 14 hours needed to qualify.

“Diabetes as a whole is a very misunderstood disease,” she explained. “Some people think it’s easier to manage on a daily basis than it really is.”

She found CRA’s response “disappointing.”

“I’d like to see more transparency in how they approve or reject applications,” she urged, “because it seems even with all the information from our doctors, they’re just ignoring them and making their own decisions.”

That’s a question directly put to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday.

“Who is better placed to determine the needs of diabetics — tax collectors in Ottawa or doctors on the ground?” Conservative leader Andrew Scheer demanded in the House of Commons.

“We understand the concerns expressed because many Canadians are touched by diabetes,” Trudeau replied, adding that his health ministry and the CRA are “meeting with concerned groups” on the issue to address the controversy, and that his government had reversed the previous government’s cuts to nursing staff reviewing the tax credit applications.

B.C. health minister Adrian Dix stopped short of criticizing his federal counterparts, but said he’s aware of patients concerns and urged Ottawa to look into

“The federal government has said they’re going to look at it; I encourage them to do so,” the Vancouver-Kingsway MLA told Metro. “But I do know that there’s very high personal costs associated with type 1 diabetes — from blood-glucose testing to insulin pumps to injections.

“We know the stress it places on many families across B.C.”

That's something Dix knows personally; 25 years ago, he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, and to this day manages his condition with low-tech test-strips and syringes.

“It’s very time-consuming,” he said. And though CRA isn't provincial, “they need to look at this — a concern has been raised.”

Last month, another Type 1 diabetes patient in B.C. — who asked not to be identified because his disease could put his professional license at risk — got a CRA denial exactly like Grossman's. But the agency elaborated: "Although we do not question the seriousness of your medical condition, we must base the decision on the specific eligibility criteria in the Income Tax Act.”

Vancouver diabetes specialist Dr. Tom Elliot, B.C. Diabetes’ medical director, noted that not all his Type 1 patients are eligible for 14 hours — equivalent to a part-time job spent managing the condition.

“Most patients don’t come anywhere close,” he told Metro, “but a certain proportion do … and they get a tax credit. Until now.

“They’re moving the goalposts.”

Those patients, he said, “don’t choose” the condition, explaining that unlike type 2 diabetes, even its cause remains unknown. “(Type 1) is not caused by being obese or unfit.”

And though Elliot said he and his patients are “up in arms” about the disability tax credit, he’d rather not have to spend his time talking about taxes.

“I’m a doctor, not an accountant,” he quipped.

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