Montreal

Outdated rule may force Quebec City senior to sell house for wife's care

Rules from the RAMQ, the province's medical health insurance board, written in 1983 say that those with more than $2,500 dollars to their name can afford to pay for care.

Neil Batterton and his wife Mireille live off $2K a month, but face monthly care costs of $1,800

Neil Batterton faces the prospect of having to sell his house in order to afford an $1,800-a-month bill for his ailing wife's care. (Catou MacKinnon / CBC)

Neil Batterton is waiting to find out if he will have to sell his house to pay for his wife's care in a public, long-term residence.

Batterton's wife, Mireille, has Alzheimer's disease. Batterton, 71, was her caregiver for nearly six years until he was diagnosed with cancer.

He was forced to enrol his wife in a long-term care institution (known by its French acronym CHSLD) after his doctor told him he was putting his own health at risk.

"I cried for days, even weeks from when I took the decision," Batterton said. "Up to the last minute, I hesitated."

But the couple doesn't qualify for financial help from the government to pay for the costs of long-term care.

And Batterton says he can't afford to pay for the costs on his own.    

"They're forcing me to impoverish myself," he said. "I don't have a choice." 

Neil Batterton still tends the flowers planted by his wife, Mireille. (Catou McKinnon / CBC)

'It doesn't make any sense'

The Batterton's have a combined monthly income of $2,000, drawn from their public security and pension plans. It costs them roughly $1,800 every month for Mireille's care in a CHSLD facility. 

In spite of their modest income, however, the couple doesn't qualify for financial help. 

That's because the provincial public health insurance agency — RAMQ — stipulates that individuals with more than $2,500 in liquid assets are not eligible for financial aid to offset the costs of long-term care. 

The amount was set in 1983 and hasn't changed since. 

"It doesn't make any sense, because he doesn't have a large income" said Judith Gagnon, who heads the Quebec association for the defense of the rights of retired and pre-retired people (AQDR).

Gagnon's group has been pushing the government to update the measure it uses to determine whether an individual qualifies for financial help.  

The Quebec Ombudsman released a report in 2014 that described the RAMQ's guidelines as lacking a consideration of the "human aspects" of placing someone in long-term care. 

"There is a lot of work to do," Gagnon said. "We have to get back to 2016."

A bittersweet upside

In an effort to qualify for financial help, and be able to pay for his wife's care, Batterton has cashed in his RRSPs.

As he waits for a decision from the RAMQ on whether he'll get financial aid, he has been borrowing money from family members. He wonders if he will eventually have to sell his house to continue paying for his wife's care.  

But he notes there is a bittersweet upside to her devastating condition.

"She doesn't understand our financial problems," Batterton said. "It's better like that."

With files from Catou MacKinnon and Olivier Lemieux.

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