New Brunswick

Health coalition fears cuts in service after N.B.'s deal with Ottawa

The Canadian Health Coalition says New Brunswick's recent decision to secure $230 million more for health care could see problems down the road, including cuts to services and poor quality in care.
The Canadian Health Coalition wants the federal, provincial and territorial governments to return to the table and work out a national health accord, says national co-ordinator Adrienne Silnicki. (Twitter/Adrienne Silnicki)

New Brunswick's recent decision to work out a $230 million health-care deal with the Trudeau government worries the Canadian Health Coalition.

Adrienne Silnicki, national co-ordinator for the coalition, predicted Tuesday that changes in cost-sharing with the federal government will decrease the quality of health care in the province and lead to cuts in service down the road.

At the end of 2016, Premier Brian Gallant announced that New Brunswick secured $230 million more for health care from the federal government over the next decade.

The bilateral deal includes funding for home care and mental health and represents an estimated annual increase in funding of 4.1 per cent.

The federal government had offered all provinces an increase of 3.5 per cent, and the provinces' counter-offer was for 5.2 per cent. After the talks failed last month, New Brunswick worked out its own deal.

Silnicki, whose group advocates the preservation and strengthening of public health care, said the Canadian Health Act is a national program, and the provinces would have reached a better deal by sticking together.

Huge problems down the road

Silnicki said provinces now pay 75 to 80 per cent of health-care costs. New Brunswick has been getting 23.3 per cent of costs paid for by the federal government, but under the deal it recently accepted, the federal share would fall to 20 per cent.

"Most provinces can't afford that and we're actually worried New Brunswick can't afford that, and we're going to have to see cuts as a result."

A continuation of bilateral deals

With bilateral deals in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador, Silnicki said the country will not see  the national standards they've seen in the past.

She used the example of 2004, when national standards were applied to areas such as hip and knee surgeries, where the wait times were very long. Wait times fell dramatically once funding was attached to that particular surgery across the country.

Silnicki said the health accord with Ottawa should address problems, including wait times, where provinces need to set aside targeted funding.

"It's the federal government's responsibility to ensure that everyone can access health care without additional payments, without user fees," she said. "We need to see a national health accord with everyone signing onto the same deal in order to see those national standards achieved."  

An aging population

Silnicki said New Brunswick was in dire need of home-care dollars and mental health funding for young people. As a result, New Brunswick, as well as Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador, felt they couldn't say no to the bilateral deal. 

"The Atlantic is facing an aging population, unlike most of the other provinces, and they need the money to be put into seniors care now," she said.

"The federal government was saying, 'If you don't say yes now, then we're going to take it away and you're all stuck with three per cent.'"

Provinces that haven't reached individual deals with Ottawa are holding out for a first ministers' meeting on the issue.