British Columbia

Migrating seniors add big expenses to B.C.'s health-care bill, report argues

Seniors flocking to B.C. to retire after spending their working years paying taxes in other provinces are adding billions of dollars to the province’s health-care costs, a new study from a right-leaning think tank argues.

But critic points out Fraser Institute report doesn't account for inflow of working age taxpayers

B.C. experienced a net migration of more than 40,000 seniors into the province between 1980 and 2016. (CBC News)

Seniors flocking to B.C. to retire after spending their working years paying taxes in other provinces are adding billions of dollars to the province's health-care costs, a new study from a right-leaning think tank argues.

The Fraser Institute report suggests that between 1980 and 2016, B.C. saw a net influx of 40,512 people over the age of 65 from elsewhere in Canada, adding an estimated $7.2 billion to the province's health care costs over 36 years.

"There are some provinces, like Quebec, that experience an outflow of seniors and they're saving money from that," Jason Clemens, the think tank's executive vice president, told CBC News.

"And then there are other provinces, particularly British Columbia, that attract a lot of seniors — and in British Columbia, it's a net cost."

Nearly three-quarters of tax revenue comes from working-age people between 24 and 64, the Fraser Institute says.

Meanwhile, the average person between the ages of 65 and 74 costs the health care system $7,401 per year. That jumps to $13,797 a year for people between 75 and 84, and $26,235 for those over age 85, according to the Fraser Institute.

'Only a portion of the picture'

But those numbers only tell part of the story, according to Bruce Newbold, a professor at Ontario's McMaster University who studies population movement.

"My impression is that it paints only a portion of the picture," he told CBC News.

"British Columbia in this case is often a net gainer of migrants — those people that are in the labour force and contributing by paying taxes. That's a benefit to B.C.'s economy," Newbold said.

In fact, migrating seniors made up less than a 10th of the total new arrivals to British Columbia over the last 36 years.

Between 1980 and 2016, B.C. saw a net influx of  more than 440,000 people from other provinces, according to Statistics Canada. More than 330,000 of those new arrivals were between the ages of 18 and 64 — prime taxpaying years.

The Fraser Institute report does not discuss the mitigating effects of bringing those new taxpayers into B.C. Nor does it discuss the burden on Quebec's health-care system of losing nearly 260,000 people between the ages of 18 and 64 during the same time period. 

Seniors bring benefits

Newbold also points out that seniors aren't just a drain on public resources.

"These are people then that are bringing their retirement savings with them, their pensions, their experiences and their expertise, which often times can be applied back into the community through volunteer roles, or maybe taking up part-time employment," he said.

The Fraser Institute report is careful to note that it's perfectly reasonable for people to move when they retire, and it does acknowledge that even retirees pay some taxes, mitigating B.C.'s increase in health care costs by as much as 36 per cent.

Funding reform

But Clemens believes the findings suggests Canada needs a complete overhaul of how health care is funded.

"Hopefully, what we won't do is just talk about a Band-Aid solution for this particular problem," Clemens said. "What I hope is it stimulates is a larger discussion about the way that we're organizing our health-care system in Canada."

He suggests Canada follow the models set by France, Germany and Switzerland — three countries that provide universal health care by making it compulsory for all citizens to pay for insurance through private companies, a public fund or non-profits.

Newbold, on the other hand, would like to see the federal government reform how health-care funding transfers are made, taking into account the proportion of seniors in each province.

"It's an idea that's been kicked around for a while … but they're not necessarily easy conversations to have," he said.

With files from Tanya Fletcher and Charlie Cho

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