MSP fees will rise for some in 2017

MSP rates for childless couples going up, while single parents and low-income families get a break

By Cam Fortems / Kamloops This Week

The B.C. Liberal government is jacking up MSP rates for childless couples, while giving single parents and low-income families a break.

The changes to medical-services plan premiums are contained in an announcement made last month — a move a Kamloops resident complains was masked as a break for everyone.

“If the government was intending on raising rates for one classification of the population, why didn’t they have the guts to come out and say so?” asked John Sternig, a former electoral area director with the Thompson-Nicola Regional District.

Sternig and his wife — along with any other couple earning more than $42,000 a year without children in the home — together face an increase of 10 per cent to their MSP premiums starting in January.

Sternig said he was galled to read a news release from the province boasting it is delaying an overall planned increase.

“British Columbia’s economic strength and ongoing spending discipline mean we are able to keep MSP premiums at current rates in 2017, cancelling a planned 4 per cent increase,” the statement read.

“Do they think it’s going to get better when we receive our first bill for 2017?” Sternig asked.

Many British Columbians won’t see any increases or decreases personally because MSP premiums are paid by their employer.

Kamloops-North Thompson MLA and Health Minister Terry Lake refused to speak on the increase, saying it would be handled by his public-relations staff.

Jamie Edwardson, a spokesman for the Ministry of Finance, said the planned four per cent hike was scrapped when forecast surpluses increased in the overall provincial budget.

Prior to that, the Liberal government made changes to its rate structure in a bid to make it less onerous on low-income and single-parent families.

“In eliminating children from MSP premiums, we had to change the way the program applies to adults,” he said.

Under the current structure, rates are set for households of one, two or three people regardless of whether they are adults or children.

The new system exempts children from charges and bases premiums on household income and on whether there are one or two adults in a home.

In some cases, that will cut rates by more than half for low-income earners.

The only group that will pay more in January are couples without children earning more than $42,000 net income.

A two-earner family with children in that bracket or above will pay the same.

NDP finance critic Carole James said government “decided to tinker with MSP when they should get rid of it.

“If you earn $1 million or $50,000, you pay the same MSP, which means it’s a regressive tax,” she said, noting the NDP has pledged to dump MSP premiums and instead take revenue from provincial taxes.

James acknowledged finding more than $2 billion won’t come quickly or easily. The party has pledged to detail how it will do that before the May 9, 2017, election.

“We’ve said it will take time,” James said.