New Brunswick

Opposition parties attack health care reforms in Liberal budget

Opposition parties are focusing their attacks on Liberal health care reforms. The Tories and Greens are raising questions about a possible privatization of the extra–mural nursing program and about new caps on a program that provides health services and benefits for people living on welfare.

Tories and Greens raising questions about a possible privatization of the extra–mural program

Green Party Leader David Coon says 'bean counters' shouldn't be put in charge of programs for vulnerable people. (CBC)

Opposition parties are focusing their attacks on Liberal health care reforms, despite the Gallant government's claims they've made no major cuts to the sector.

The Tories and Greens are raising questions about a possible privatization of the extra–mural program and about new caps on a program that provides health services and benefits to people living on welfare.

In his budget speech Tuesday, Finance Minister Roger Melanson said there would be "dollar maximums and frequency limits" on the benefits, which are run by the Department of Social Development.

Ernie Steeves, a PC MLA, says Social Development Minister Cathy Rogers, who did not speak to reporters Wednesday, needs to explain the changes.

"What's the dollar figure? How many visits are they supposed to hit before the frequency limits have been topped out?" Steeves asked in scrum with reporters. "Is it two? Is it five? Is it two a month?"

Program cost jumped

The government said, in a prepared statement after Tuesday's budget, the cost of the program has jumped almost 17 per cent since 2010, and hit $17.5 million last year.

But Steeves dismissed the cost issue. "Costs go up on everything," he said, "but we don't put a proviso, if you would, on every single cost in there [in the budget]."

Health Minister Victor Boudreau told reporters that everyone who is eligible for the program will continue to get benefits, but "the program doesn't have any limits.
Health Minister Victor Boudreau says the talks with Medavie Blue Cross and the New Brunswick Medical Society will "transform the way we deliver primary care." (CBC)

"For example, if you only need a particular device or particular project, maybe the industry standard is that you need to get a new one every six months, but maybe now they're getting one every two months," he said.

Still, Green party leader David Coon said it's not acceptable that the Liberals are putting "bean counters" in charge of a program for the province's most vulnerable people.

Coon also attacked the Liberal decision to negotiate with Medavie Blue Cross to have the company take over administration of the extra–mural hospital program, which he calls a "jewel" of the system.

'Moral responsibility'

Medavie Blue Cross now runs Ambulance New Brunswick, and that service would also be part of the new organization.

Boudreau says Ambulance New Brunswick is working well, but Coon says his dealings with the organization during legislative committee hearings have convinced him the public interest is not a priority.

"When you transfer those functions to the private sector, they don't have that moral responsibility to protect citizens, because we're not citizens of those companies," he said.

"In the public sector, governments have a moral responsibility. That's the deal. That's the social contract — a moral responsibility to protect their citizens."

Boudreau says the talks with Medavie Blue Cross and the New Brunswick Medical Society will "transform the way we deliver primary care."

And while he insists nothing has been decided, he's already talking about how positive it will be. "We'll be seen as a leader in the country if we get there," he said. "But these are discussions that are just begun."

Amid the barrage of criticism, the Liberals did manage to score one political point on health care Wednesday.

Boudreau confirmed in Question Period that he's vetoing Vitalité Health Network's proposal to close 99 hospital beds.

That includes 20 beds that have already been closed at the hospital Edmundston, which Boudreau said on Wednesday was only a temporary move.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.