Pal­lis­ter mak­ing no prom­ises on health-care plans

Winnipeg Sun - - NEWS - JOYANNE PURSAGA jpur­saga@post­media.com

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.

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