Quebec health minister admits fees for senior care out of date

With requests for government aid on the rise, Quebec Health Minister Gaétan Barrette says the standards used to decide who gets help to pay for long-term care need to be revised.

Requests for government aid on the rise

Health Minister Gaétan Barrette says the provincial benchmarks have not stood the test of time. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Quebec's health minister says the standards used to decide who gets help to pay for long-term care need to be revised.

According to standards set in 1982, a person is ineligible to pay a reduced price at a public nursing home (known by its French acronym CHSLD) if they have more than $2,500 in liquid assets or a home worth more than $40,000.

Health Minister Gaétan Barrette says those benchmarks have not stood the test of time.

"The parameters of the program haven't changed for years — more than 20 years, actually," he said.

The comments come after a Quebec City man told CBC earlier this month he feared he might have to sell his home in order to pay for his wife's care.

Neil Batterton and his wife Mireille live off $2,000 a month, but face monthly care costs of $1,800 to pay for her nursing home costs.

Barrette said the government will look at the criteria in place for those seeking reduced nursing home fees. 

But the minister added that the maximum fee, which he said is low compared to the rest of Canada, could also be revised. 

More people asking for help

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)

In the meantime, the number of people applying for an exemption with the provincial public health insurance agency (RAMQ) has ballooned over the past five years.

The insurer calculates its annual numbers from February to February of each year.  

RAMQ processed only 4,882 applications for exemptions in 2012. That number has grown progressively every year since then, reaching 7,929 requests for 2016.

During that time, the number of people staying in CHSLDs has gone down slightly.

Caroline Dupont, a spokeswoman for RAMQ, said the statistics only show the number of applications received, not necessarily the number of individuals applying.

"One person can make two or three [requests] in the same year," she said.

Fewer people get financial relief

While the number of requests is exploding, the number of people who are getting approved for reduced rates is dropping.

According to RAMQ, 1,633 fewer people benefited from a lower rate in 2016 than in 2012.

Dupont said she cannot interpret the data and does not know why requests are going up while the number of those getting approved for lower fees are going down. 

She said the standards used to measure people's eligibility have not become any stiffer.

It's scary for those who are getting older. What is going to happen to us?- Judith Gagnon, president of AQDR

But Judith Gagnon, the president of the Quebec association for the defence of the rights of retired and pre-retired people (AQDR), said the flood of requests is further proof that seniors are having trouble paying for their care.

"It's scary for those who are getting older. What is going to happen to us?" Gagnon said.

She said the RAMQ financial benchmarks are forcing people to drain their money to the last drop.

"[It's] every little bit they have to keep living. Is that what we want? What's the message we are sending to people?"

Calls for change

Quebec's opposition parties also say the need for change is urgent, and that the steady increase in requests proves it.

"What are so many people asked for an exemption and why are so many not receiving it? There's reason to examine to our conscience there," Coalition Avenir Quebec health critic François Paradis said.

The provinces are in the middle of negotiating a new deal with the Trudeau government on the amount of health care funding they can expect to receive.

Barrette says in order for him to do more, Ottawa must do the same.

"Quebec has a problem like all provinces and the federal government has to respect its commitments."