British Columbia

MSP hike triggers new calls for reforms

The recent hike in B.C.'s Medical Service Plan premiums has triggered calls for reforms, with one political party vowing to make it an issue in the next B.C. election.

It's time to switch to an income-based model, says B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver

MSP premiums have gone up 39 per cent in B.C. since 2009 and now bring in more than $2.3 billion in revenue for the government. (Getty Images/Gallo Images)

The recent hike in B.C.'s Medical Service Plan (MSP) premiums has triggered calls for reforms, with one political party vowing to make it an issue in the next B.C. election in 2017.

The January hike was just the latest in a series that has seen MSP rates increase by 39 per cent since 2009.

By Friday morning more than 55,000 people had signed an online petition started by Ucluelet resident Michelle Coulter calling on the government to scrap MSP premiums altogether.

That might be a tough sell considering how much cash the premiums put into provincial coffers.

In the 2014/2015 budget, revenue from MSP premiums was expected to be $2.27 billion, compared to corporate income tax revenue estimates of $2.35 billion.

But B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver has another idea. He's made his first election promise to replace the tax with a system based on how much people earn.

Right now B.C. is the only province with an MSP premium where rates remain the same for everyone earning over $30,000 a year, he notes.

Weaver says B.C. should adopt the Ontario model, which has a sliding scale for incomes between zero and $200,000.

"If you earn over $200,000 you pay $900 a year, and if you earn zero dollars you pay zero and it's graduated in between," he says.

Income tax model proposed

MSP rates vary based on the size of your family, with a single person paying $75 per month, families of two paying $136 and a family of three or more paying $150.

Those who earn less than $30,000 have to apply to premium assistance to pay a smaller amount.

Weaver adding there is also a high administrative cost with the current model of mailing out costly invoices, processing applications for assistance and collecting from those who do not pay.

Instead, he proposes switching to an automatic income tax, which would be taken off pay cheques.

"Right now hundreds of thousands of monthly invoices are going out. There are collection agencies involved. We have a system in place to better collect called the income tax return."

With files from Richard Zussman and Mike Laanela


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