Feds, provinces at loggerheads over health funding

by Leo Almazora03 Oct 2016
The struggle between Ottawa and the provinces over the terms of a new Canada Health Accord continues, with Quebec Health Minister Gaétan Barrette rejecting any possibility of a truce.

Barrette and Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott were both present to speak at an Ottawa medical conference organized by Canada 2020 and the Canadian Medical Association, and it was evident that the two will still be butting heads over differences in policy priorities.

Dr. Philpott’s speech hammered home the importance of the federal government and the provinces finding the middle ground for improving services for priority areas such as home care and mental health. Dr. Barrette was not willing to be conciliatory in his speech, however, pushing for a different focus. “The ongoing discussions on a new health accord are off to a bad start, because they are based on issues [such as home care], while what we really need to talk about is funding,” Dr. Barrette said.

The sentiment seems to be shared by other provinces, who collectively agree that the planned 3% increase in annual cash transfers is not enough. “For Canada’s health-care system to remain sustainable, the federal government must play a larger role in covering the costs of healthcare,” said Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins in a statement.

The provinces recently called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to hold a meeting “dedicated solely to long-term healthcare financing,” ahead of another first ministers meeting on environmental concerns later in the year.

They offered another option: that Ottawa maintain existing transfer policies for another year. Since 2004, the annual increase in health transfers has stood at 6% a year. Philpott, however, claims to have no authority over funding matters, making things difficult in the run-up to negotiations this October.

“My goal is to make sure Canadians are healthy and get better health care,” the federal minister said, explaining her insistence on improved home care. “The facts simply don’t support the notion that the major issues facing our health system will be solved simply by tossing more money at the system.”

In response, Dr. Barrette pointed out that Quebec’s healthcare system is already growing by 3% a year due to infrastructure and personnel costs, even before innovation and improvements are factored in. Better home care is a clear priority for his administration, he says, but before Quebec agrees to negotiate, federal government needs to put up more funding.

“Talking about conditions is their way not to talk about funding,” he told reporters. “It’s a trap.”

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Feds set to clash with provinces over healthcare overhaul