Sunday, April 17, 2011

Provinces seek clarity on health funding

Provincial politicians are looking for more detail on health-care funding after the three major national party leaders pledged to maintain the annual six-per-cent increase after the current health accord with the provinces expires.

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and NDP Leader Jack Layton have all said they would continue the annual increase after the 10-year health-care funding accord expires in 2014.

Health care is a provincial responsibility, but federal transfers provide vital funding to provincial health systems.

The next government will likely be responsible for the next round of negotiations, and several provincial politicians are calling on the leaders to provide more information about health-funding plans.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty also weighed in on health-funding, saying he would like to see another 10-year health deal.

He also said that he'd like negotiations to start early so the new deal is finalized by the end of 2012.

"We want a commitment to medicare," McGuinty told CBC Radio's The House host Kathleen Petty in an interview airing Saturday. "This is not a case, as Canadians, where we need to retreat into a dark hole and cower against a medicare system, which is teetering on the edge of collapse because I just don't see it that way," he said. "I'm convinced we can curb that cost curve, we can work together to flatten it out a little bit."

Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said there are questions about how long the new agreement will be for and how funds will be allocated. He also expressed concern that health-care funding could come at the expense of other programs.

“Let’s say they raise transfers by a billion dollars, and then they cut a billion somewhere else,” Duncan said. “Then that leaves us no further ahead.”

Prince Edward Island Premier Robert Ghiz expressed similar concerns Friday, calling on the leaders of the national parties to pledge that growth in health-care funding wouldn't be "undermined by cutbacks in other federal transfers."

Lloyd Snelgrove, Alberta's minister of finance, called for an "adult conversation" about the difficult choices that will emerge in the next round of negotiations.

”If we’re going to have a sustainable health-care system that Canadians want, they’re going to have to be difficult choices,” Snelgrove said.

A recent report co-authored by David Dodge, the former governor of the Bank of Canada, warns that spending on health care is expected to rise rapidly over the next two decades.

The report suggests that health spending could account for 19 per cent of GDP in 2031, up from 12 per cent in 2009.

Comprehensive plan needed

Dr. Jeff Turnbull, president of the Canadian Medical Association, said the public must pressure federal leaders to provide more than just a number.

“It’s our job now to push for the details,” Turnbull said. “What’s their comprehensive plan for health care for the future? What will it look like?”

Nova Scotia Health and Wellness Minister Maureen MacDonald said money is just part of the discussion.

“We need to talk about what it is we require in our health-care system, what our priorities are and how we’re going to achieve those things,” MacDonald said. "It’s about what kind of a health-care system do you want to provide to Canadians.”

MacDonald said that means whoever wins the next election will have to provide an overall vision for health care in Canada — one that ensures equitable funding for provinces while taking into account the different populations and health issues in various provinces and territories.


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