Manitobans must pay health premiums or face cuts to services: Premier

Premium would be tied to income levels, similar to B.C., Ontario
By Steve Lambert
||Last Updated: 09/13/2017
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister speaks to journalists Dec. 9, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

WINNIPEG (CP) — Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said people in the province have a choice: Start paying health-care premiums like residents in some other jurisdictions, or prepare to see services cut.

“We're asking Manitobans what they would suggest we do, given the reality of the situation,” Pallister said as he announced the start of annual pre-budget public consultations on Wednesday.

“With the reality that the federal government's transfer support is reduced ... this is the reality we have to face. It's a stark reality but it's the reality.”

The premium would be tied to income levels, Pallister said and be similar to ones in British Columbia and Ontario that see adults pay up to $900 a year.

While Pallister said he is open to instituting a new tax for health care, he said the government will still fulfil a campaign promise to cut the provincial sales tax to seven per cent from eight per cent before the next election, scheduled for October 2020.

He also said he would not hold a referendum on any health premium. A provincial law requires referendums on any tax hikes to income, sales or corporate payroll taxes.

A health premium does not fall under those categories, Pallister said.

The Tories never mentioned health care premiums while campaigning in last year's election. The federal government's recent decision to slow the growth in annual transfer payments — to three per cent from six per cent — will cost the province $2.2 billion over the next 10 years, Pallister said.

The Progressive Conservative government revealed a website that will guide consultations for next spring's budget and features a section on health-care premiums.

It says there are three choices: A low premium to sustain services at their current level, a higher premium to enhance services and worker salaries, or no premium “which would lead to reduced health care services from current levels.” The word reduced is underlined.

There will be online consultations, town halls and telephone conference calls seeking public input on the premiums and other budget ideas before any final decision is made, Pallister noted.

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