Budget 2019: Health care spending up one per cent
'It's hard to talk about fiscal responsibility without talking about health care,' finance minister says
Health-care spending in Alberta will rise by $201 million this year to a total of $20.6 billion, the United Conservative government said Thursday in its first provincial budget.
In the two previous provincial budgets, the former NDP government increased health spending by three per cent each year. In the 2018-19 budget, total health spending was $20.4 billion.
"It's hard to talk about fiscal responsibility without talking about health care," Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews told reporters Thursday before his budget speech.
Health spending is the largest expenditure, accounting for about 43 per cent of the province's total operating costs.
Toews said Alberta's health-care costs are one of the highest per capita in the country.
Administration costs, research and education, ambulance services and support services will all see decreases to their budgets compared to 2018-2019, budget documents released Thursday show.
The opening of the south Edmonton hospital will be delayed. The hospital is now expected to open in 2030 instead of 2027, with funding for the project spread out over seven years.
In the budget, funding for the proposed child and adolescent mental health building at the Royal Alexandra Hospital has been deferred beyond the government's four-year fiscal plan.
NDP health critic David Shepherd says the project delays will hurt Edmonton.
"I'm deeply concerned to see that. That's been the pattern of Conservative governments for a long time. When they want to artificially balance the budget, they want to cut back on needed infrastructure and create more costs down the road," he said.
The province's $2.9-billion health capital plan will include money for planning the redevelopment of the Red Deer Regional hospital and the proposed Brain Centre at the University of Alberta.
Capital funding will also be allocated for the Calgary Cancer Centre, the Norwood continuing care facility in Edmonton and the Grande Prairie hospital.
According to Thursday's budget, over the next four years the province plans to spend:
- $100 million on a mental health and addiction strategy;
- $40 million on an opioid response strategy;
- $20 million for palliative care;
- $6 million for a new sexual assault hotline;
- $4 million for the Health Quality Council of Alberta.
One of the UCP's campaign promises missing from Thursday's budget was a plan to address surgical wait times.
A plan to deal with that will be included in next year's budget, the province said.