Alberta spends the most per person of any province on health care

Alberta spent more per person on health care this year than any other province, outpaced only by the territories.

The province was forecast to spend $7,552 per person in 2018

Prescription drug spending is rising in Alberta and across Canada. (Regis Duvignau/Reuters)

Alberta is on pace to spend more per person on health care this year than any other province, a new report says. 

The province is forecasted to spend $7,552 on health care per person in 2018, a report released Tuesday by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) found, higher than the Canadian average of $6,839.

That spending is up 2.2 per cent from the previous year.

Alberta was forecast to spend $7,552 per person on health care in 2018. (National Health Expenditure Database, Canadian Institute for Health Information)

"Alberta typically is a little on the high side in the per person spending in health care for a number of reasons," said Michael Hunt, director of health spending with CIHI.

Hunt cited factors like human resources pay, and health-care delivery approaches across different jurisdictions.

"It's hard in a country like Canada where we have 13 different approaches to delivering health care…. It's difficult to actually compare at a jurisdictional level in the precision around what we expect for increases, [and] not just increases but overall spending."

Hunt said despite spending the most, Alberta has one of the lowest health-care spending to GDP ratios, because the province has some of the highest revenues in the country.

The report said health-care spending is highest in the territories due to their large geographical areas and low populations, among other factors. 

Drug spending on the rise

Hospitals, drugs and doctor's services took up the largest shares of dollars spent, with prescription drug spending increasing faster than other expenses both in Alberta and across Canada.

An average of $1,074 is expected to be spent on prescription drugs per person in 2018. That's up 3.4 per cent from last year, which outpaced the growth of spending on both hospitals and doctors.

Hunt said CIHI is keeping an eye on drug spending and shifts to more expensive medications.

"The impact of using generics may be less as we go forward as there's fewer and fewer generics available for some of the more complex drugs that are challenging to produce and administer to patients," he said.

"The whole category of spending has potential to continue to consume a larger part of overall expenditures."

Greying population

Hunt said another thing Alberta will need to monitor in coming years is as the average age of the population increases, spending could go up.

Across the country, an average of $1,539 per person is spent on children aged one to 14, while the average is $11,301 for those over 65.

People over 65 made up 16 per cent of the population in 2016, up from 13 per cent in 2006, Hunt said.

"If you break it down and really go into detail, if you're over 80 years of age we're probably spending $20,000 a year or more on those individuals as they age," said Hunt.

"Population change within individual jurisdictions will affect spending, there's no question."

With files from Jennifer Lee