More people eligible for caregiver allowance, but no change to amount

More families who are looking after a seriously ill or impaired loved one will be eligible for a provincial program that aims to help offset the extra costs of care.

Nova Scotia government estimates another 600 people will get help to offset medical expenses

Angus Campbell, the executive director of Caregivers Nova Scotia, says the $400 per month allowance would have been helpful when he was taking care of his partner. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

When his partner contracted tubercular meningitis and became a paraplegic in January 2006, Angus Campbell shouldered his new responsibilities as a caregiver, along with the added costs associated with caring for Paul Boulais.

Those costs for uninsured medical goods and services "wiped out our life savings," said Campbell.

Campbell, now executive director of Caregivers Nova Scotia, helps guide and advise people who find themselves in similar circumstances, including pointing them to government programs that did not exist when Boulais was alive.

Campbell is happy to hear a program set up in 2009 by the Nova Scotia government is being expended to help even more people.

"We hear it from our caregivers every day — medical supplies, transportation and other services can be expensive, especially if the caregiver has to give up their job," he told reporters at a news conference announcing the program's expansion.

The Caregiver Benefit Program offers a caregiver $400 a month to help cover the costs of care. Until now, to be eligible, the person needing care had to have "a high level of impairment or disability requiring significant care over time."

The province is expanding the criteria in the hopes more people with serious impairments will qualify.

Eligibility changes

The new eligibility rules will extend the benefit to those who have a combination of:

  • Moderate to significant memory loss, problems with decision-making and communications that affect daily functioning.
  • Many challenges in managing their personal needs.
  • Serious behavioural problems.
  • A high risk of falls.
  • A high risk of long-term placement.

The Health Department has estimated that should add another 600 people to the program's current caseload of 1,979 recipients.

The amount caregivers are given won't change.

"Increasing the pool [of recipients] ... is really indicative of our aging population and the needs that are associated with that group," said Seniors Minister Leo Glavine.

How much will this cost?

Although Glavine would not say how much the changes would add to the program's $10.2-million budget, simple math suggests it will cost the province about an extra $2.9 million a year.

Campbell is satisfied with the decision to expand the benefits to more people, rather than to increase the allowance to those who now qualify.

"Is $400 enough?" he said. "Well, you know, is it ever enough? Whatever amount that's given, but I think that $400 is a fair, good amount and it's non-taxable," he said.

"I know that when I was a caregiver and had to give up my job, $400 would have made a huge difference."

Financial requirements

The financial eligibility will remain the same. A single person receiving care must have a net annual income of $22,125 or less. If married or common law, the couple cannot have a combined income of more than $37,209.

The person providing the care must be doing so voluntarily and the work must be equivalent to 20 hours.

The Department of Health and Wellness is in the process of re-evaluating applications it has previously turned down for the program.

​"We are reaching out to those individuals to update their status and enrol them in the program," said Susan Stevens, the senior director of continuing care at the Nova Scotia Health Authority.

The department believes 200 people who were turned down under the previous guidelines will now be eligible.