Single parents in B.C. to pay lower medicare premiums

Premier Christy Clark will offer financial relief from medical service plan premiums, but only for a group of British Columbians whom she’s already helped through several other programs: single parents.

Clark will unveil MSP changes in the Feb. 16 B.C. budget that will exempt single-parent families from having to pay MSP premiums for children, the B.C. Finance Ministry confirmed.

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For a family of three or more people, the move would reduce a $150 monthly MSP bill to $75 a month, or the rate for a single adult.

The government would not release financial figures Wednesday about the total cost of the changes, though the Finance Ministry said as many as 70,000 single parent families are expected to benefit from the changes.

The government raised MSP premiums this month, as it has annually for the past several years. The exemptions for single parents won’t come into effect until 2017.

MSP premiums are projected to bring in $2.4 billion this year as part of a $46-billion budget that has a forecast surplus of $515 million. Clark has said the money is needed to pay for health care, which costs $19 billion annually. That translates to 42 per cent of all government spending.

“We want to find a way to make MSP work for everybody, but you know, one of the reasons British Columbia has an MSP system, and it’s had it for a long, long time, has been to remind people that health care isn’t a free service in our province, and it isn’t anywhere,” Clark said last month.

The proposed MSP changes are the latest in a series of reforms for single parents since Clark became premier in 2011.

Clark — a single mother — has brushed aside requests to make large and potentially costly changes that would raise provincial welfare or assistance programs for all residents, in favour of smaller credits and relief targeted to specific groups of people.

Instead of lowering post-secondary tuition and creating more affordable child care for everyone, her government announced last year free tuition and child care for single parents who want to return to school to train for certain in-demand jobs.

The Opposition NDP questioned the timing of the MSP news, which comes during two byelection campaigns in Metro Vancouver.

“This is a cynical ploy by a cynical premier,” NDP Leader John Horgan said.

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