Welcome plan for home care

TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorials
Published On Thu Oct 07 2010.

If Canadians want to take time off work today to care for an elderly or sick relative, they must provide employment insurance with a doctor’s note stating that their loved ones are on the brink of death. No family member wants to think that way; they shouldn’t have to produce such a letter.

We should be grateful when people choose to care for ailing relatives. Not only does that choice allow the sick person to remain in more comfortable surroundings, it also alleviates the burden on hospitals, nursing homes and an inadequate home-care system.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff should be applauded, then, for a policy proposal that would give Canadians more time and money to care for the sick at home. Ignatieff’s two-pronged policy, announced Tuesday, would cost $1 billion. The Conservatives immediately pounced on this price tag and called it “reckless” spending. But the Liberals have costed it out: their plan would be funded by cancelling the Conservative government’s planned corporate tax cuts.

Under Ignatieff’s plan, caregivers would be eligible for six months of EI benefits, compared to the current six weeks, and the terminal illness requirement would be dropped. Ignatieff would also offer caregivers a refundable tax benefit, with low- and middle-income earners eligible for up to $1,350 a year to defray the costs of looking after an ailing family member at home.

The experts all agree that one key to reining in rising health-care costs is a greater focus on community-based services and home care. And while $1,350 a year is unlikely to be enough to cause someone to decide to stay home to provide care, the proposed tax credit would at least offer long overdue recognition of the work of unpaid caregivers and the public benefit derived from it.

On its own, Ignatieff’s proposal would not solve all our health-care problems. For that, the federal government needs to work with the provinces to restructure our health-care system with an emphasis on prevention, early intervention and less costly community-based care. But in tackling an issue that has been ignored for too long, Ignatieff would get us headed in the right direction.

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