Costly care

January could be bleak for seniors living in publicly funded care homes. Most will pay significantly more for care this year than they did two years ago.

January could be bleak for seniors living in publicly funded care homes. Most will pay significantly more for care this year than they did two years ago.

A senior with income of $22,000, for example, will pay $1,956 extra in 2011 compared to 2009 while others will pay much more because 80 per cent of their after-tax income will go to pay for care.

This policy will have a harsher effect on dependent spouses, who have always relied on their husband’s pension.

They will find it particularly hard to pay the higher fees and still cover the costs of medicine, dental care and add-on care home services such as television and telephone because the family’s income will be significantly reduced under the 80 per cent rule.

Sure, they can apply for reduced rates on the basis of hardship but this may be a drastic step for some and they may not even qualify without depleting their assets.

They could also consider the radical step of divorcing their husbands so they can sue for half the pension but this, too, would have limited appeal.

For these families, selling the family home or tapping the incomes of sons and daughters may be the only way they can make ends meet.

Was this the intent of the new rate structure?

At first glance, it appears the government did everything it could to make the new fee structure more equitable for British Columbians.

It lowered the fees for 25 per cent of seniors, split the rate increase over two years to make it easier for people to adjust, and public care still costs half of what it costs in private facilities.

With the greying of the baby boomer population, it makes sense to make seniors pay more for the care they receive because even at the maximum monthly rate of $2,932, they still pay less than half of what it costs for 24-hour nursing care in a public-care home.

But for a vast majority of seniors, this policy appears to have some unintended consequences and they face some serious belt-tightening in 2011.

—Autumn MacDonald