Senior premiums to be debated at UBCM

Seniors groups and municipalities across B.C. are calling on the province to cancel Medical Services Plan premiums for seniors.

Seniors groups and municipalities across B.C. are calling on the province to cancel Medical Services Plan premiums for seniors.

Several B.C. mayors plan to raise the issue at a Union of B.C. Municipalities meeting later this September.

Sylvia MacLeay, president of B.C. Senior Citizens Organizations (COSCO), said most B.C. seniors live on fixed incomes that are falling behind the cost of living.

“Many people who’ve been retired for 20 years or more and had a decent income are now on the verge of poverty,” MacLeay told Black Press. “Their income has not increased, but the prices of just about everything have gone up.”

B.C. and Ontario are now the only provinces that charge residents a premium for health care. Alberta cancelled all such premiums in 2009.

In B.C., any household that makes less than $22,000 a year in taxable income pays no MSP premium.

In Ontario, that cut-off is $20,000 or less a year.

COSCO, the B.C. Old Age Pensioners Organization and the City of Vancouver have all claimed in the lead-up to the UBCM meeting that B.C. is the only province in Canada to charge seniors a health care premium. But that is not the case.

Ontario seniors do pay health care premiums if they make more than $20,000 a year.

According to the Ontario Ministry of Finance, the Ontario government decided in 2004 that it would be more fair to charge health care premiums based on income, rather than age. In 2004, the ministry estimated that just under half of all Ontario seniors would not have to pay a health premium because of the $20,000 cut-off.

Nevertheless, MacLeay said that still leaves eight other provinces where pensioners do not pay a premium for health care.

Currently, any B.C. senior who collects more than $30,000 in income and who lives alone or as a couple pays $109 a month for health care premiums. That comes to $1308 a year.

MacLeay said that seniors who live on a fixed income, or even an indexed pension like the Canada Pension Plan, need that money to pay for the rising cost of everyday items like groceries and car maintenance. Even indexed pensions don’t rise fast enough to match the increasing cost of living, she said.

Adding to the problem of falling pension values, she added, many retired people had a large part of their savings wiped out when the recession hit in 2008.

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