Difficult decisions to come on health spending, Reiter says
New agreement will see Saskatchewan get nearly $350M for home care and mental health over 10 years
Saskatchewan and the federal government announced they reached a federal health funding agreement Tuesday afternoon which would see the province receive nearly $350 million for home care and mental health over a 10-year period.
Saskatchewan Health Minister Jim Reiter says the government is disappointed they didn't get everything they were hoping for in terms of federal funding assistance but he thinks the province is in a good spot.
The agreement comes a month after the feds and the provinces discussed a potential $11.5 billion deal, which would have seen Canada Health Transfer money increase by 3.5 per cent per year for five years. The deal was withdrawn by the federal government.
"We think that we're in a situation right now where frankly, because of money we need in areas that are a priority for the federal government as well, such as mental health and home care, we think it's very important now to just get started," Reiter said.
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Reiter said because there is a lot of work to do, it's important that "the money flows."
Reiter estimates the province spends more than $5 billion on health care each year. The federal government is providing the province with nearly $1.2 billion over the next year.
"So it's approximately 20 per cent of our total health care bill. We have a situation already where we're paying the predominant share of it. So clearly that's going to continue," Reiter said.
"As part of the normal budget process, we make health care a priority. We're going to continue to make it a priority but we're going to have some difficult decisions to make down the road."
Under the new agreement, the provincial government will see transfers increase by either three per cent or the average of the nominal gross domestic product growth over a three-year period, whichever is higher. That three per cent increase is a half per cent lower than the offer made to provinces in December.
"There's also an understanding between the finance ministers that that extra half of a per cent that was offered in December will be made up under a different avenue," Reiter said.
Reiter said the GDP is expected to rise above the three per cent threshold in the third year of the agreement onward.
'Twitter tantrums' not helping, health critic says
Danielle Chartier, Opposition NDP health critic and MLA for the Saskatoon Riversdale riding, said it's hard to say whether or not the provincial government could have had more money if they accepted the original deal in December.
She did say every dollar is welcome because home care and mental health are huge needs which cannot have money "frittered or skimmed away" in other areas.
Chartier criticised the provincial government's working relationship with the feds.
"The premier's Twitter tantrums, I'm sure, have not helped our negotiating leverage with the federal government," she said.
She hopes the funding will result in improved mental health and home care.
Chartier said Saskatchewan has fallen behind what many other provincial governments are spending on mental health.
"We do a very poor job in supporting people with mental health and home care," she said.
Chartier mentioned the province's Mental Health Action Plan which was supposed to partner with First Nations and Métis people in the province, reduce stigma, and make community supports easier to access and maintain.
"There has been little action with respect to that action plan," she said, saying that instead there have been cuts and services in the northern part of the province are not adequate.
"People leave the emergency room suicidal and can't access the supports that they need."