Pallister making no promises on health-care plans
Premier Brian Pallister wouldn’t guarantee he’ll follow the views of most Manitobans on a potential health-care premium Thursday, as critics worried the hike’s size could far exceed that of the previous government’s provincial sales tax increase.
The potential premium, which Manitobans can weigh in on at manitobansmakingchoices.ca, has come under fire from business, healthcare and labour groups since the province announced it’s considering the idea on Wednesday. Many oppose the fact that the only no-premium option is directly tied to health service cuts.
But Pallister believes a comments field on one health question will allow varying views to be gathered from those who reject both cuts and premiums.
“(The survey) is not designed to lead the witness,” he said.
The premier refused to offer a potential premium price but did note a survey example of $75 per month offers some context.
Pallister campaigned on a pledge to reverse the one-point provincial sales tax hike of the previous NDP government -- from 7% to 8% -- but denied claims that the premium would defy his low-tax agenda.
“This is a questionnaire and it’s not a policy decision we’re acting on, so give me a break,” Pallister said.
But the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce is concerned about the potential magnitude of the hike, based on the province’s reference to B.C. as an example in its survey.
Loren Remillard, the chamber’s president, said at the height of B.C.’s medical service premiums, the fee generated 13% of that province’s health-care spending. If Manitoba wished to raise the same portion of health spending through premiums, the health tax would bring in just under $900 million, which greatly exceeds the roughly $300 million per year raised by the PST increase.
The NDP predicted the PST hike would cost the average household about $300 per year, while the chamber estimates the health tax could cost a two-income household about $1,800 per year.
“If it were to proceed, just based on the model ... Given the magnitude of what we’re talking about, this would absolutely necessitate a referendum to make sure you have the legitimacy to proceed with this,” Remillard said.
Remillard said businesses also fear pressure to cover health premiums for employees, since that has happened in other provinces that charge one.
“As a result, many small business people are going to be squeezed,” he said.
Remillard said the province’s either/ or proposition of a new tax or health service cuts also dismisses the idea that innovation and public-private partnerships could cut costs instead.
The premier dismissed questions about the size of the tax as hypothetical, while noting the province’s pre-budget survey includes an option for voters to choose an unspecified “lower” premium with status quo service levels.