The growth of health care spending in Canada slowed to its lowest rate in nearly 15 years, according to a new report.
In 2013, total health spending is expected to reach a record $211 billion or $5,988 per person, the Canadian Institute for Health Information said in its report Tuesday on national trends in health expenditures from 1975 to 2013.
Total health spending is expected to rise by 2.6 per cent this year, less than half the average growth of seven per cent per year between 2000 and 2010.
Christopher Kuchciak, the institute's manager of health expenditures, attributed the slower pace to Canada’s modest economic growth and government efforts to balance budgets.
The public sector pays for about 70 per cent of health care in the country, $148 billion. The remaining 30 per cent, $63 billion, comes from sources such as private insurance and patients paying without reimbursement.
Hospitals, drugs and physicians are three main categories of total health spending.
"Managing health-specific price inflation for goods and services, including doctors, nurses, other health-care professionals and advanced diagnostics will be a challenge," the report's authors said.
It's the third consecutive year where the growth in health spending has not kept pace with inflation and population growth, they said.
The report's findings can be seen as good news and bad news, said Dr. Michael Rachlis, a health policy consultant in Toronto, commenting on the report.
"It's good news because with health-care costs being more sustainable, being a lower share of our economy and a slightly lower share of government spending, it means that it's more affordable," Rachlis said. "But of course the bigger question … is are we spending the money better or in fact are the cuts being made on services that are really important to people?"
Rachlis believes both are true. On the positive side, wait times for some surgeries have gone down. However, provincial governments also continue to offload services, such as outpatient physiotherapy or counselling that isn't offered by a psychiatrist.
Spending for seniors aged 80 and older in 2011 was $20,387 per person, which was more than three times that for younger seniors aged 65 to 69.
As the percentage of the population age 80 and older increases, the report's authors said decision-makers will also face a challenge of determining the best ways to provide care for older adults.