Toronto

Health-care advocates slam Drummond report

A public health advocacy group is accusing the Ontario government of manufacturing a crisis to justify billions of dollars in health-care cuts expected in the highly anticipated Drummond report.

Ontario Health Council makes pre-emptive strike against cost-cutting blueprint

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and Health Minister Deb Matthews have been forced to defend the Drummond report before the cost-cutting blueprint has been released. (Dave Chidley/Canadian Press)

A public health advocacy group is accusing the Ontario government of manufacturing a crisis to justify billions of dollars in health-care cuts expected in the highly anticipated Drummond report.

The Ontario Health Coalition issued a report Friday in a pre-emptive strike against the long-awaited blueprint for tackling the province's deficit.

The government's restructuring plans contain serious costing errors and inadequacies that put Ontario's most vulnerable patients at risk, the organization said.

But Health Minister Deb Matthews said health care remains a priority in the province.

"Ontario families can rest assured that we are not reducing health spending," she said Friday.

The advocacy group's director said information surrounding the Drummond report and the changes that will follow has been presented in a "very manipulative" way.

"Almost all of the government's PR messages have been about creating a crisis to justify major restructuring and cuts," Natalie Mehra said. "But the truth is that health-care spending is not actually out of control."

The coalition's data show Ontario's health spending is among the lowest in the country in terms of the amount spent per person and the proportion of provincial gross domestic product.

The province spent $3,911.7 per person on health care in 2010, the data show. Meanwhile, the other provinces spent an average of $4,351.

The Drummond Commission report on reforming Ontario's government to trim a $16-billion deficit will be released Feb. 15.

Former TD Bank economist Don Drummond was hired by the Liberals to review all government programs and services and find ways of lowering costs.

Drummond told Premier Dalton McGuinty last fall that Ontario would have to cap the overall increase in government spending at one per cent a year until the deficit is eliminated in 2017-18.

Liberals hope to cap growth in health spending at 3 per cent

The Liberals hope to cap the growth in health spending at three per cent, but it eats up 42 per cent of every dollar so that could mean cuts of up to 30 per cent in some ministries. 

Matthews reaffirmed those plans Friday when asked about the coalition's report.

"Health spending will continue to grow but the fiscal challenge demands that the rate of increase will slow significantly," she said in a statement.

Drummond has also mused about eliminating OHIP coverage of some medical procedures and operations, and warned many of his several hundred recommendations will be unpopular.

But Mehra argued dwindling revenue, rather than rampant spending, is hobbling the health-care system.

Deep tax cuts are depriving the province of much-needed funds, she said.

"It means that we can't afford services we need and it means there's already a big backlog of patients with urgent and unmet health-care needs that is only going to get worse if we continue to cut services," she said.

Closing a loophole in the Employer Health Tax would create a "more equitable funding system" that could generate $2.4 billion per year to help alleviate some of the cost pressures in the health system, the report reads.

Drummond's talk of sweeping reform has stirred some apprehension over his upcoming recommendations.

NDP says more transparency needed

Fuelling those fears is the lack of transparency surrounding the decision process, said NDP health critic France Gelinas, noting health-care workers haven't been consulted.

"People in the health-care field are on pins and needles right now," she said.

Media reports Friday suggested all-day kindergarten — a program the premier considers one of his crowning achievements — could be on the chopping block.

The province's elementary school teachers were quick to pan the possibility, saying it would be "short-sighted and counterproductive."

A spokesman for the minister of education said that while officials look forward to Drummond's advice, "the government will be moving forward with its own plan."

Meanwhile, Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak has said it's time for the Liberals to stop hiding behind Drummond and start taking real steps to reduce the size and cost of government.

Hudak wants a legislated public sector wage freeze to save money and has said the government should also shut down Local Health Integration Networks and the Ontario Power Authority.