While the provincial government has touted the elimination of Medical Services Plan (MSP) premiums as the biggest middle-class tax cut in B.C. history, some Burns Lake area residents believe this change won’t affect their lives.
Premiums under the province’s MSP were eliminated starting Jan. 1, saving individuals up to $900 a year while families will pocket up to $1,800, according to the province.
But Burns Lake area resident Loren Neilson said British Columbians will still pay the premiums in different ways.
“Wake up people, you’re still paying MSP,” said Neilson. “Anything the government provides for free is anything but.”
Burns Lake resident Kelly Lindaas agrees.
“We might not be paying for it per se, but it will come out in taxes and other fees.”
Smithers resident Dana Glanville also agrees, adding this rationale is common sense.
“Nothing is free and will ultimately be paid for by us,” said Glanville. “It’s just buried somewhere else.”
Burns Lake resident Joe Driscol believes the MSP premiums will now be included in taxation for other goods and services.
“You will pay for health care — it will be included in your groceries and your gas and your Christmas gifts and everything you buy,” said Driscol.
The province has replaced the MSP premiums with a new payroll tax paid by employers.
The employer health tax is likely to cost eligible businesses more than the MSP did, said Ken Peacock, chief economist of the Business Council of B.C. That’s because business only accounted for about half of the province’s MSP revenue, with the rest paid directly by individuals.
One concern is that the employer health tax adds another disincentive to employers to take on full-time workers and pay benefits, Peacock told Black Press.
But some local residents are happy with the elimination of the monthly premiums, which have been gradually phased out over the past three years.
Xandria Van Tine said the change won’t be significant, but even a small amount will help her pay the bills.
Wayne Giles said it was “about time” the province eliminated the MSP premiums, which do not exist anywhere else in Canada.
Finance Minister Carole James has emphasized that when total MSP payments are calculated at the highest level charged, in 2017, the change actually represents an overall tax cut of $800 million when it is fully implemented.
B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson has disputed the claims that the MSP elimination is the biggest middle-class tax cut in B.C. history, noting that the Gordon Campbell government reduced personal income taxes by 25 per cent across the board after taking office in 2001.
Both major parties campaigned in 2017 to eliminate the MSP premiums.
Although final MSP bills went out in December, individuals and businesses are still on the hook for any arrears. People who have set up bank auto-payments for MSP are advised to cancel those, or they will keep sending money to the province.
—With files from Tom Fletcher