Tories question proposal to ask some New Brunswick seniors to pay more for care March 25, 2015

Opposition Leader Bruce Fitch speaks to reporters at the Legislature in Fredericton.
Photo: Adam Huras/Legislature Bureau

FREDERICTON • The Tory opposition is questioning the priorities of the Liberal government after the minister in charge of finding hundreds of millions in savings floated the idea of asking some seniors to pay more for long-term care.
Victor Boudreau, the minister responsible for the strategic program review, told Brunswick News last week that the Liberals were considering a freeze to the Department of Social Development’s budget.
Social Development is the third largest department in government after Health and Education. Its 2014-2015 budget was $1.1 billion.
To get there, the Grits are considering changes to the seniors care funding system.
Opposition Leader Bruce Fitch labelled the idea as “disgraceful” in the provincial legislature on Tuesday, stating the Liberals rather spend millions of dollars on pavement than protect the assets of seniors.
The salvo took aim at the Liberal’s $900 million infrastructure spending plan.
“There is an urgent, urgent file right now that is causing many, many people in the province a lot of concern, a lot of heartache, and a lot of discouragement,” Fitch said. “It is disgraceful that the government has floated a trial balloon to say that we are going to increase the conditions of the contribution to long-term care.
“It is shameful today that this particular government wants to spend millions of dollars on pavement rather than protecting the assets of seniors who have contributed so much to the people of the province.”
He added: “Can the Premier rise today, apologize to the seniors of the province, and say that this is not on the table in this budget?”
Premier Brian Gallant was not in the legislature on Tuesday.
Social Development Minister Cathy Rogers did not directly answer the question, instead stating that a multimillion-dollar plan unveiled by the former government in efforts to keep seniors in their homes is under review.
“Seniors are a priority of this government,” Rogers said. “All vulnerable people are a priority of this government.
“Nothing has changed with regard to our priorities of creating jobs, getting our fiscal house in order, and taking care of families.”
She added: “I have reiterated that the Home First approach has to be looked at in the whole context of long-term care. Seniors are very, very important. We have a system that has to be sustainable. We are acting to make sure that the system is there for all people who need it, when they need it, and with the right levels of care.”
Rogers answered questions during question period but was not made available for comment afterward on Tuesday.
About 10 years ago, the assessment for nursing homes used to include family income and assets when determining what daily fee a resident would pay.
Lobbying by citizen and senior groups resulted in having the process changed so that assets such as the family home were no longer included in the calculation.
But Boudreau is suggesting the pendulum may have swung too far in one direction.
“Holding social development at zero does mean looking at things like the means testing they do for nursing homes, for example – the financial assessments, looking at people’s ability to pay,” Boudreau said. “Does it always have to be across the board, or can some of these things be wealth based? We are looking at all kinds of different scenarios as we try to nail down the budget in time for March 31.”
Boudreau said that, currently, an individual’s financial contribution to long-term care is based on income, “but it doesn’t look at anything else.”
“So you could be very wealthy or be from a middle income family and end up paying the same to get the services,” he said. “We need to look at that model.
“We are looking at it very closely as we finalize the budget.”
Green party Leader David Coon is also standing against the proposed change.
“We’ve been down this road before,” Coon said. “The idea that seniors’ assets like their homes may be on the block is unacceptable.
“Those are things that they are hoping to pass down, often to their families.”
He added: “To essentially have to dissolve all of their worldly belongings and assets is just not fair, it’s not right, it’s not just.”