Local MLAs say the introduction of a high-income tax in B.C. could deter family physicians from settling in the South Okanagan.
After the B.C. NDP government introduced the tax in the 2020 budget in February, B.C. Liberal MLAs voiced their disapproval, stating it could contribute further to the already existing shortage of doctors in the area.
The new tax bracket increased income tax levels to 20.5 per cent for those earning more than $220,000 annually.
“I totally agree. We are already short doctors in the South Okanagan,” said B.C. Liberal Boundary-Similkameen MLA Linda Larsen on Twitter, responding to her colleague, B.C. Liberal Penticton MLA Dan Ashton’s tweet regarding the potential risk of the tax increase.
I totally agree. We are already short doctors in the South Okanagan https://t.co/SL7uhHmpjI
— Linda Larson (@LindaLarsonBC) February 20, 2020
Larsen added later she was one of about 700 who recently received a letter in the mail stating they were were without a family doctor.
“It’s a concern,” said Ashton after he returned from Victoria. “Doctors have a concern—they employ a lot of people.
“You walk in, there’s a receptionist, there are nurses, there’s all kinds of overhead.”
Ashton added the government needs to be aware that doctors are mobile in terms of where they can work.
“Doctors have a choice today to go literally anywhere they want in the world, and one of the best places to go in the world for being a physician is 40 miles south of here across the border between Canada and the United States,” said Ashton.
He added there are many places in B.C. that have what he described as great difficulty recruiting new family doctors.
“We want to keep not only the doctors who have been our family doctors for years, but the new doctors who are coming through,” he said.
The local MLA said he want to support new doctors as they leave school and enter into the field of practice.
“We want to be able to keep them in the country and specifically in the province.”
Black Press previously reported the increase could push total income tax for high-income earners close to 50 per cent, when federal and provincial income tax rates are combined.
As of 2019, B.C.’s top combined federal and provincial personal income tax rate is 49.8 per cent, for incomes of $150,000 or more.
That is about 13 per cent higher than the rate in Washington and Alaska, neither of which has a state personal income tax.
B.C.’s South Okanagan Similkameen Divisions of Family Practice co-chair and physician lead Dr. Tim Phillips said like many other places in Canada, the area is seeing a lack of family physicians and people going into long-term practice.
The division describes it as a complex issue.
For years it has worked on strategies to help attract more doctors to the South Okanagan and Similkameen region. That, Phillips said, is a big area of discussion among many physician groups.
“We’ve done some surveys and some assessments on what we think would attract new physicians,” he said.
Phillips added his group have heard from young physicians, who say they don’t want to work in a 20-year-old model — which requires family physicians to work mainly on their own.
Phillips has worked as a family physician in Penticton for 20 years, and has operated his family practice since April 2001.
When he began working after school in the 1990s, he described the industry as quite traditional and worked in many small groups and in solo offices.
“(New doctors) want to work in bigger teams of providers and they want to work with different teams of supports,” he said.
That, he added, is what the Divisions of Family Practice is trying to facilitate.
The division serves seven communities — Penticton, Summerland, Oliver, Osoyoos, Keremeos, Hedley and Princeton.
Within those communities there are approximately 150 family physicians.
According to the division, full-time urban primary care providers have about 1,250 patients each, while rural providers have 800.
There are currently 4,262 patients in the South Okanagan Similkameen region signed up to the patient attachment list.
Speaking about a doctor who recently left a practice, leaving about 700 patients without a family physician, Phillips said such a decision is never easy.
He noted while often their division will work to recruit into the vacated position, at times that is not always possible.
And the patients left behind lose their primary care provider joining the numbers of others unattached across the South Okanagan Similkameen region.
According to the Division of Family Practice, from April 2019 to January 2020, more than 3,200 patients in the South Okanagan Similkameen region were attached to a primary medical care provider.