Sandra Thomas / Vancouver Courier
FEBRUARY 20, 2018
The Seniors Advocate for B.C. calls the 2018 provincial budget announced today by B.C. Finance Minister Carol James a good one for seniors.
Isobel Mackenzie, who heads up the Office of the Seniors Advocate, told the Courier Tuesday afternoon that it’s seniors who will likely benefit most from the announced elimination of Medical Services Plan premiums by 2020 to be replaced by a payroll health tax for businesses.
“They’re not employees so they’re not covered,” said Mackenzie.
Mackenzie also welcomed news that low-income seniors will benefit from an increase to the Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters (SAFER) program and Rental Assistance Program. The province is pledging $116 million over three years to the program and raising the ceiling to include those who have annual household incomes of $40,000 up from
“The challenge for the new government is that there were some assumptions from the former government where that money would come from and that didn’t happen,” said Mackenzie, who added that meant the NDP had to find the money elsewhere to put it towards improvements for seniors living in B.C.
Other benefits for seniors included in the 2018 budget:
- B.C.’s Fair PharmaCare program to eliminate deductibles for those who qualify.
- Freezing fares on all major B.C. Ferries routes, reducing fares on non-major routes and fully restoring the Monday to Thursday seniors’ passenger fare discount.
- Funding of $150 million to help connect those who do not have a family doctor with team-based primary care.
- $6.2 billion over 10 years to create 33,700 affordable housing units.
- A $930 per year increase to the rental income assistance program, as well as a funding increase to the seniors’ shelter grant.
- Reinstating free bus passes to more than 100,000 B.C. residents receiving disability assistance.
Jennifer Whiteside, business manager of the Hospital Employees’ Union, is also pleased with the increase in spending for seniors care. The HEU is B.C.’s largest health union with members working in hundreds of occupations in hospitals, care homes, home care agencies, First Nations health centres and other settings.
“Significantly, the $548 million set aside in the budget to increase hours of direct care in residential care, restores hope for seniors and those who deliver the care,” said Whiteside in a press release. “The budget also promises $950 million in additional funding to maintain health services and improve primary care — that means more front-line workers to provide quality care for a growing and aging population.”
Whiteside said that after a generation of neglect, the B.C. NDP’s 2018 budget allocating $1.5 billion in new spending over the next three years puts the province’s health system back on track.
“By strengthening health care, Premier Horgan’s government is affirming that you can’t build a better future for British Columbians without providing quality acute, residential and community care,” said Whiteside.
Whiteside added, the budget also reaffirms the government’s commitment to new and long overdue construction of hospitals. As the province gears up to build new health infrastructure, the union is looking forward to a long-needed review of public-private-partnerships. Whiteside said there’s growing evidence from within B.C., across Canada and around the world that these partnerships are the most expensive way to finance new hospital construction.
“Budgets are about choices and this budget chooses to put people first,” said Whiteside. “The choices this government is making to improve access to affordable, safe and secure housing and child care — like their commitment to renew our health system — marks a historic change that will benefit all British Columbians.”
The B.C. Nurses Union is also positive about the 2018 budget when it comes to seniors care.
Acting president Christine Sorensen said the union welcomes the NDP making services British Columbians depend on more accessible and affordable, including health care.
“New investments in the supply of quality, affordable child care, housing availability and affordability, and the elimination of MSP premiums entirely by Jan. 1, 2020 will improve services and quality of life for British Columbians,” said Sorensen.
She added the new budget provides $1.5 billion in new investment over three years to improve access to primary care, home and community care, residential care and assisted living, making services that help seniors age in place more accessible and extending primary care to many who currently lack doctors.
“$548 million of this new money is specifically targeted to increase hours of direct care per individual in residential care and to enhance services to meet the needs of our rapidly growing seniors’ population,” said Sorensen. “This is great news for seniors and long overdue.”