Health minister announces P.E.I. healthcare changes

Health Minister Doug Currie announced today how he plans to rein in healthcare spending on P.E.I.

Seniors will pay $75 for ambulance use

Health Minister Doug Currie announced Wednesday how he plans to rein in healthcare spending on P.E.I.

"The traditional spending on healthcare in this province since 2007 has been approximately 6.5 to seven per cent growth every year, and with this budget, we are basically seeing a contained budget," Currie told reporters.

This year, there will be slightly more than a four per cent increase and every year after that, the healthcare budget increases will be capped at 3.5 per cent.

"Health now takes over 40 cents from every taxpayer dollar and will soon take much more if we continue to spend the way we did in the past," Currie said.

That means changes are coming — for example, starting in October, if a senior needs an ambulance, they'll have to pay $75. The Liberals eliminated ambulance fees for seniors in 2009.

But the cost of ambulance service has increased by 50 per cent over the last five years, Currie said, so the seniors co-pay had to be re-instated.

Also, the emergency room in Montague will never return to around the clock service, he announced. Instead, it will be open for 14 hours a day.

Currie is also changing the rules for childrens’ dental services.

If a child is covered under a private plan, the province will no longer pay.

Stewart Memorial Hospital in Tyne Valley is losing its outpatient services, Currie said that's because similar service is available across the road at the new Tyne Valley Health Centre.

However, Currie didn't say specifically when the outpatient services will cease.

MLA Paula Biggar admits while there are now two full-time doctors in the area, it's still a loss.

"I do consider it a cut, obviously everybody likes to have the status quo. I'm very cognizant of the importance of our facility in the community," Biggar said. "It's a big economic factor."

The province will also reduce the number of hemodialysis clinics from four to two.

The Opposition didn't think much of the province's health plan.

"I think it's pretty sparce on details at this point," said Opposition health critic James Alyward. "What was announced today, I was really hoping or expecting a lot more to come out of it."

Currie said he plans to travel across P.E.I. talking to Islanders about what they think.

"There's no question I think the decisions today, our policy decisions are small," Currie said. "Our committment as a goverment to Islanders is that before we start making radical policy shift in healthcare, we need to have a conversation."