Finance Minister Carole James presents the audited public accounts at the B.C. legislature, July 18, 2019.The province’s surplus has dwindled to an estimated $148 million for the current fiscal year, and unpaid medical premiums total more than three times that amount. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

B.C. residents still owe $422 million in medical premiums

Canada Revenue Agency sending out tax collection letters

B.C.’s long experiment with charging Medical Services Plan fees to help pay for health care is far from over, with a mountain of overdue bills remaining after the final ones were sent out in December.

The B.C. finance ministry says that as of Dec. 31, individuals and businesses still owe $422 million in overdue MSP fees, accumulated over years of government struggles to track and enforce the payments. That’s more than three times the total revenue the province expects from the entire forest industry this year.

“This is similar to the amount in previous years, as it is the historical outstanding debt, not necessarily debt owed from the latest fiscal years,” the ministry said in a statement to Black Press. “MSP premiums, billed to individuals and businesses, have always been difficult to administer across the province, which can lead to high arrears.”

Besides using private management contractors and collection agencies, the province calls on the Canada Revenue Agency to collect its MSP debts. The federal tax agency is currently sending out letters to B.C. residents and businesses warning them to pay the province or have the overdue amount deducted from tax credits or refunds they may be eligible for.

“[Revenue Services of B.C.] has asked the Canada Revenue Agency to apply your tax refunds and certain tax credits against a debt you owe them,” the form letter states. “This is allowed under subsection 164(2) of the Income Tax Act.”

B.C.’s premium assistance program is still in effect, with retroactive assistance available for people whose income is low enough for reduced rates to apply. The MSP bureaucracy has been criticized over the years for continuing to charge people the full rate after they lose their jobs, basing the charge on their income from the previous year.

RELATED: Full weight of B.C. employer health tax to be felt in 2020

RELATED: B.C. NDP touts the end of medical services plan premiums

The B.C. finance ministry says the income tax collection policy has been in place since 1999. Five years after the NDP government of Glen Clark started using the tax system for collections, the B.C. Liberal government of Gordon Campbell contracted out the struggling MSP bureaucracy to a U.S. back-office company called Maximus Corp.

The 10-year contract with Maximus cost taxpayers $324 million, and started with fines and penalties to the company for failing to immediately fix the chronic problems of slow customer response from the B.C. government department it replaced. The contract required Maximus to answer phone calls in three minutes or less and process new applications within 22 days of receiving them, employing the same unionized staff who transferred from the province to Maximus in 2004.

The contract is currently held by Victoria-based Advanced Solutions, which started in 2004 as a subsidiary of U.S. billionaire H. Ross Perot’s company, Electronic Data Systems, to provide services to the B.C. government.

During the 2017 election campaign, both the B.C. Liberals and NDP promised to eliminate MSP, the last such fee in Canada, starting with an immediate 50 per cent reduction. The NDP minority government delivered on that promise in 2018, and introduced the Employer Health Tax on business and local government payrolls above $500,000 to make up the revenue, estimated at $1.9 billion for the current year.

About half of MSP has been paid by employers on behalf of their staff, and those employers are on the hook to pay both the reduced MSP and the new payroll tax for 2019. The remainder is paid directly by individuals, if they can be located and persuaded to pay.


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

BC legislature

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Felix Townsin, shown here with his sister, Lexi, who died on Oct. 19, 2019. Felix is a big part of a family initiative aimed at finding a cure for Blau Syndrome. (Photo contributed by the Townsin family)
Quest to cure Blau syndrome a family affair

John Stubbs student produces film for late little sister Lexi

An untitled Emily Carr painting of Finlayson Point was donated to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria by brothers Ian and Andrew Burchett. The painting had been in their family for several decades. (Courtesy of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria)
Newly public Emily Carr painting depicts well-known Victoria view

Painting among several donated to Art Gallery of Greater Victoria

An incident on Sooke Road is slowing traffic Wednesday evening. (Courtesy of Mona Hazeldine)
Sooke Road incident snarls evening traffic

Witnesses report two-vehicle collision

Janet Austin, lieutenant governor of B.C., was presented with the first poppy of the Royal Canadian Legion’s 2020 Poppy Campaign on Wednesday. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)
PHOTOS: B.C. Lieutenant Governor receives first poppy to kick off 2020 campaign

Janet Austin ‘honour and a privileged’ to receive the poppy

Soccer player Ethan Finnigan juggles the ball at Oak Bay High. The Grade 12 student was injured much of last year and was relying on his senior year to score a scholarship and play at university. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)
High school athletes remain on sidelines across B.C.

Recruiting for university on hiatus, future unknown

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count jumps by 287, another senior home outbreak

Two more deaths recorded, community outbreak in Okanagan

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Oct. 27

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

MMFN First Nation has said that it will restrict access to portion of Highway 28 that passes through the Nation’s land until a road use agreement is reached. (Black Press file photo)
Vancouver Island First Nation blocks highway access to logging trucks in Gold River

Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation restricting access for Western Forest Products pending road deal

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
Rescued bald eagle that came to life in B.C. man’s car had lead poisoning

Bird is on medication and recovering in rehab centre

The B.C. Centre for Disease control is telling people to keep an eye out for the poisonous death cap mushroom, which thrives in fall weather conditions. (Paul Kroeger/BCCDC)
Highly poisonous death cap mushroom discovered in Comox

This marks first discovery on Vancouver Island outside Greater Victoria area

Cowichan Search and Rescue set up near the Silver Bridge in Duncan on Wednesday morning, Oct. 28, 2020 to rescue a dog from the Cowichan River. (Citizen file)
Cowichan Search and Rescue save dog from icy Cowichan River

Search and Rescue’s swiftwater team was called in

Premier-elect John Horgan and cabinet ministers are sworn in for the first time at Government House in Victoria, July 18, 2017. (Arnold Lim/Black Press)
Pandemic payments have to wait for B.C. vote count, swearing-in

Small businesses advised to apply even if they don’t qualify

A raccoon paid a visit to a Toronto Tim Hortons on Oct. 22, 2020. (shecallsmedrew/Twitter)
Who are you calling a trash panda? Raccoon takes a shift at Toronto Tim Hortons

Tim Hortons said animal control was called as soon they saw the surprise visitor

Most Read