Jane Philpott says any new health dollars must go directly to health
Federal government, provinces prepare to do battle over transfers
Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott says it will take more than just money to fix Canada's "middle-of-the-road" health system.
On the eve of what's expected to be an acrimonious meeting with her provincial counterparts, Philpott said she's puzzled that despite "dramatic increases" in transfers over the years, there has not been an equal increase in health spending.
She wants to make sure any new investments go directly to health.
"I don't know where that money is going," she said. "We give the money to the Canada Health Transfer and it actually goes to the general revenue streams of the provinces."
Philpott said the goal is not to throw more money at an underperforming system, but to transform it to improve priority areas like home care and palliative care.
"There are countries in this world, there are many of them, developed countries, Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, that are getting far better value for money than we are," she said. "We pay some of the highest costs in the world for health care, and we've got a middle-of-the-road system."
Philpott met with stakeholders including doctors and patients' groups in the run-up to Tuesday's potential showdown with her provincial and territorial counterparts, who are rejecting the government's offer of a three per cent annual funding boost.
Previous annual hikes were set at six per cent, and the provinces say the reduction will leave them unable to deal with the country's fast-changing demographics and aging population.
"We say that that's just not acceptable," said Quebec Finance Minister Carlos Leitao. "So it's going to make for some interesting negotiations."
Dollars directed to health care
Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins insisted that any extra money provided by the federal government would not go to a general revenue stream.
"An increase in that would certainly be spent on the health care budget of Ontario," he said.
Hoskins explained that because the federal contribution makes up about 25 per cent of Ontario's total health spending, a six per cent escalator translates into only 1.5 per cent increase.
Indigenous health, opioid abuse and prescription drugs are all topics for discussion, but the federal funding question is the most pressing and divisive issue on the agenda.
Provinces say health funding should be a 50-50 split with the federal government, but the provinces are now footing about 80 per cent of the bill.
Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa called the situation "problematic," and urged that negotiations be escalated to the first ministers level.
"We need predictable, sustainable funding going forward," he said. "All of us are preparing our next budgets and we need to foster ways to support our commitments as we go."
B.C. Finance Minister Michael de Jong warned that the federal-provincial relationship is at stake.
"There is a partnership here. The delivery of health-care services, those principles of universality and portability that Canadians hold so dear are the function and the result of that partnership," he said. "But the partnership is changing, and unless the federal government is prepared to revisit a decision made by a previous federal government, that partnership will continue not only to change, but to deteriorate. And that's bad news for all Canadians."