Alberta is one of the biggest spenders on health care in the country, according to a new report — but one economist says the expenditures are even higher than they appear. 

The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) forecasts total health spending in Alberta to reach $7,329 per person in 2017.

The report says the only province that spends more is Newfoundland and Labrador. All three territories spend more, but they face special contributing factors, such as their sparse and spread-out populations. 

"The economy is somewhat stronger than it has been in the last couple of years, so we are seeing a little more expenditure on health," said Michael Hunt, director of spending, primary care and strategic initiatives with CIHI.

Young population

University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe says the numbers are actually higher than they appear in the report, because Alberta's population is much younger than other provinces — only 12 per cent of the population is over the age of 65.

"So adjusted for age and gender differences across provinces, Alberta is by far the highest spending province by health," he said. 

Alberta's spending in 2015 compared with other provinces, excluding the territories, was 14 per cent higher once adjusted for age and gender, Tombe says.

Fiscal health

That needs to be addressed if Alberta is going to deal with its fiscal challenges, he says.

"That's not something that we should be spending on. We have a very young population and that would lead us, you'd think, to be able to spend less on health."

Tombe says two of the most significant factors to address are high levels of physician compensation and per capita spending on hospitals.

Earlier this year, CIHI reported that doctors in Alberta are paid on average $380,000 annually, which is the highest average in the country — followed by P.E.I. and Saskatchewan.

Nationally, the CIHI report forecasts physician spending to rise this year by 4.4 per cent and spending on hospitals to grow by 2.9 per cent.

Internationally, the report says Canada's health spending per person in 2015 of $5,681 was similar to spending in France ($5,677), Australia ($5,631) and the United Kingdom ($5,170).

With files from Jennifer Lee