Finance Minister Mike de Jong is set to perform surgery on Medical Services Plan fees in the Feb. 16 budget, but he insists B.C. will continue to be the only province to charge people directly for medical care.
"There are some people who advocate eliminating MSP entirely as a separate fee, and hiding it or camouflaging that fee within the general taxation structure," de Jong said. "I disagree with that. I think you create the illusion that people aren't paying a fee."
Premier Christy Clark has indicated that there will be relief for single parent families with income over $30,000 a year, cutting the family rate to $75 a month to effectively remove MSP fees for the children.
De Jong said it's possible to change the current rate structure, which exempts single people and families making less than $22,000 and rises in steps to $150 a month for a family of three or more making more than $30,000. The government has taken criticism for charging the same rate for wealthy people as those with low incomes.
The finance ministry disputed a report from the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation that claimed more than 850,000 MSP accounts are at least 31 days past due. Ministry staff say there are 387,381 MSP "pay direct accounts" in arrears.
The amount of the the arrears is estimated to be $457 million, and de Jong said that is why the government takes collection action for those who owe fees. About half of B.C. residents have MSP paid by their employers, with the rest expected to register, show their income and pay what is owing.
"I also recognize that some families encounter difficulties," de Jong said. "Almost one million British Columbians don't pay MSP. Sometimes there's a lag before they're registered, so that accounts for some of the arrears."