The provincial government is cancelling a four-per-cent increase to MSP premiums, one of several moves Finance Minister Michael de Jong attributes to a stronger fiscal position than forecast.
But the cancellation announced Thursday, Sept. 15, won't be noticed by most people, said a local New Democrat nominee.
The government should instead be following the rest of the country, ending medical insurance premiums as a tax that is widely acknowledged as regressive, said Barb Nederpel. Nederpel is to be acclaimed Saturday as the NDP candidate in Kamloops-North Thompson.
De Jong said revenues have brought in more than forecast, almost $2.5 billion. A robust economy, more people working and earning incomes, higher corporate income tax revenues and property transfer tax revenues are leading to a forecast surplus of $1.9 billion for 2016-17, the finance minister said.
“Better revenues primarily reflect our province’s strong economy, with more people working and a robust housing market. With these revenues, we can make important investments to help families with the cost of housing."
Along with the MSP measure, those eligible for regular premium assistance will see a four-per-cent reduction of their premium beyond what was announced in spring.
"The changes we’ve made to MSP, both in Budget 2016 and today, mean that more people will see their premiums reduced or eliminated, and no premiums will increase in 2017," de Jong said.
He called it “another step toward fairer and progressive funding for health care.”
The NDP contends that MSP is a massive waste of money, costing $100 million to administer. It's considered regressive because it charges the same amount regardless of income.
"This is the most regressive tax in history," Nederpel said. "It's one the NDP is committed to gettting rid of and rolling into income tax, which is fair."
B.C. is the only province that still charges MSP. Since the cancellation of the four percent hike is covered through revenues, it's the taxpayers who will be funding it, Nederpel said.
"I don't think British Columbians are going to buy into it," she said. "It's a pretty small gesture."
Cancelling the January 2017 premium increase will save adults up to $36 per year, the government said.
As a result of the budget measures and those announced Thursday, by next year 40 percent of families will pay reduced premiums or no premiums, according to the finance ministry.
De Jong promised additional measures to counter the high cost of housing.
“About half the value of the increased revenue from the Property Transfer Tax ($500 million) will be invested in new programs to benefit housing affordability and $400 million will be invested in the B.C. Prosperity Fund as a legacy for future generations. We are also setting aside some of this year’s higher-than-forecast revenue to eliminate the government’s direct operating debt one year earlier than projected in Budget 2016.”