No criteria yet for what makes a ‘wealthy’ senior in New Brunswick April 7, 2015


CHRIS MORRIS Legislature Bureau

CARP spokeswoman Suzanne Maltais of Fredericton says she has been inundated with calls and emails from seniors who are upset about a means test being brought in for nursing homes. The seniors lobby group says it would place an undue burden on a vulnerable population. Photo: Chris Morris/Legislature Bureau

FREDERICTON • As concern grows among New Brunswick seniors about a proposed means test for long-term care, the provincial government says it has yet to define the criteria to establish who is wealthy enough to pay more for access to nursing homes.

The Department of Social Development said in a statement Monday it will not have a policy until the fall on its decision to ask “wealthy clients” to contribute more to the true cost of nursing home care, which it says is about $233 a day.

Social Development Minister Cathy Rogers and Finance Minister Roger Melanson both have said the vast majority of seniors – 87 per cent – will continue to be subsidized for long-term care. But they have not defined the threshold of wealth for the minority of seniors who will be asked to dig into their own pockets to pay for care.

“The government will be guided by the principle of fairness and making these difficult decisions in a fair and compassionate manner,” the government’s communications department said in a release on behalf of Social Development.

“This ensures that those with the greatest ability to contribute more to fixing the province’s fiscal situation do, while at the same time minimizing the impact on the most vulnerable.”
The statement said consultations and policy design need to be completed before the government can define the criteria for the means test.

The announcement in last week’s budget that the current cap of $113 per day for nursing home care is being removed and that those who can afford it will be asked to pay more has sent shock waves throughout the province’s senior community.

CARP, formerly known as the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, weighed in on the debate Monday, stating in a news release that forcing families to use savings and investments to finance nursing home care places an “undue burden” on people facing life-changing decisions.

“A majority government which did not campaign on this issue does not have the mandate for such a drastic change. CARP members would change their vote over this,” said Susan Eng, vice-president of advocacy for the national seniors lobby group.

In New Brunswick, two CARP representatives – Suzanne Maltais in Fredericton and Nelson Vessey in Moncton – said in interviews on Monday they are being inundated with questions from worried seniors.
“People don’t know what it means,” Maltais said, adding the government needs to have a better communications strategy for the issue.

“Seniors are very apprehensive and they are outraged at the fact that the government is changing the policy. What is the fee structure? How will it work and how will it affect, say, a couple when one spouse has to go into a nursing home? How much will the supporting spouse have to pay? Will the home have to be sold? We need more information. We know this province is in a poor state and that we have to do our share. But the seniors are a vulnerable population.”

Vessey said he is afraid the means test will turn back the clock in New Brunswick to a time when all assets, including the family home, were calculated for nursing home fees.

“I’m worried we could see a repeat of divorce, New Brunswick style,” Vessey said. “The only way people could protect their assets was to divorce, so they separated their assets between the wife and husband.”
The budget announcement states that family homes will not be considered under the new policy – only liquid assets like investments and savings. But Vessey said once seniors lose income, they may be forced to sell the family home because they can no longer afford to maintain it.

Maltais said a means test for seniors could be the thin edge of the wedge, wondering if it could eventually be extended to other public services. She said the prospect is frightening to older people who no longer have the ability to work harder to raise more money.

“When you are 30 years old, you can recover,” the CARP spokeswoman said.
“But when you are 80 years old and people take away your investments and your assets, where do you go after? That scares people.