Victor Boudreau, the minister responsible for coming up with $500 million to $600 million in savings, said last week he wants to hold the line on the Department of Social Development’s spending in the upcoming budget.
This will include “looking at things like the means testing they do for nursing homes for example – the financial assessments, looking at people’s ability to pay. Does it always have to be across the board, or can some of these things be wealth based?” Boudreau said.
As it stands, how much a senior pays for care in a nursing home is based, for the most part, on his or her income. Prior to October 2006, how much a senior paid was based on assets, everything from retirement plans, savings, cottages, and non-residential land holdings. New Brunswickers had to pay for 100 per cent of their care until their assets were depleted. The consequences of this formula were devastating for some married couples because the asset calculation comprised the couple’s total assets. This meant the spouse who didn’t need care had to watch his or her assets dwindle away to nothing.
As hard to stomach as that is, a suggestion from bureaucrats on how to beat the system was even worse. In 2003, years before the reform, Elizabeth Martin said if she wanted to hold onto some assets, she should get a divorce. Martin and her husband had been married for 45 years at the time.
“If we get a divorce, half the assets will be mine. If we don’t get a divorce all the assets will be the government’s,” Martin said at the time.
The Social Development budget is the third largest expenditure behind health care and education, and given the demographic projections for the province, it is only going to grow in the foreseeable future. As eager as the Liberals are to rein in spending and generate new revenue, doing it on the backs of seniors who have managed their finances responsibly is a public relations disaster waiting to happen. Not only does it look bad, but it will only lead to games of hide and divest your assets.
The Liberals are doing the right thing by looking everywhere, but the answer to the Social Development budget might be found in other areas.
People enter nursing homes because they, or their family, are no longer able to take care of themselves. So what can the government do to keep seniors at home longer?
New Brunswick Medical Society president Dr. Camille Haddad says the most cost-effective way to keep people out of hospital is through regular checkups with a family physician. The reason it’s cost effective is because minor problems don’t have the opportunity to become serious ones. Unfortunately there are thousands of people in the capital region without a family doctor. Addressing the shortage will have benefits down the line.
Another way to keep seniors at home longer is through at-home care. Nursing homes should be the last resort. With a little help, the need to seek full-time care can be delayed, saving the government money and families a gut-wrenching decision. Bolstering the home-care program is going to be a must to cope with the “grey tsunami” demographers are predicting.
The Liberals have a number of options to address the Social Development budget, but reintroducing a disastrous policy shouldn’t be one.