Health Minister Jane Philpott 'anxious' to sign new health accord by year's end

Canada's health minister is eager to draft a new health accord so the federal government can start flowing funds to help cash-strapped provinces deal with the mounting costs of health care.

New assisted-dying legislation 'not a compromise,' minister insists, despite criticism from activists

Minister of Health Jane Philpott hopes to pen a new health accord by year's end, which will include a new long-term funding agreement to help cash-strapped provinces pay for health care. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Canada's health minister is eager to draft a new health accord so the federal government can start flowing funds to help cash-strapped provinces deal with the mounting costs of care.

"The sooner we can come to those agreements the better. I am as anxious, or more, as you are to get this done and I think Canadians are going to be pleased," Jane Philpott said in an interview with Chris Hall on CBC Radio's The House. "I would like to see the [discussions] wrapped up toward the end of this year and hopefully have a big announcement in 2017."

The current federal-provincial health accord is set to expire next year, and annual increases to health-care funding will then be tied to GDP growth rates. A sluggish economy would restrict the amount of money transferred to the provinces.

That funding formula was drafted by former Conservative finance minister Jim Flaherty, who imposed the deal on the provinces without much debate.

That move ended a costly agreement negotiated by the previous Liberal government, which secured yearly increases of 6 per cent a year to help meet the demands of the country's rapidly aging population.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau campaigned on a promise to pen a new health accord, with a different long-term funding formula.

But there was little mention of health care in the budget released last month save for a $270 million commitment for health infrastructure in indigenous communities.

Indeed, the campaign promise to immediately invest $3 billion over the next four years on home care was left out entirely. Philpott said that that money will be rolled out as part of a more comprehensive health-care package.

"One thing that's really important in health care ... [is] to make sure there are not silos," she said. "I'm not interested in giving little pockets of money here and there along the way for pilot projects."

She said that any deal negotiated with the provinces will address home care, a pharmacare strategy, improved mental health services and a commitment to bolstering palliative care. "We will come to those agreements, and the money will be there," she added.

The federal government has already agreed to join the provinces and territories in the bulk purchase of pharmaceuticals, a move aimed at making medication cheaper for Canadians. But some would like to see the federal government go even further and set up a nationally-funded program to cover the costs of medication.

Assisted-dying bill 'not a compromise'

The health minister also insisted that the new assisted-dying legislation is not a compromise, despite the government's decision to leave out key components recommended by a parliamentary committee studying the matter

The bill, unveiled Thursday, restricts assisted death to adults who have serious and incurable illness, disease or disability facing "foreseeable" death. It excludes the right to die for "mature" minors, the mentally ill and doesn't allow advance consent for patients with degenerative disorders.

"No I would not say it's a compromise. People need to have personal autonomy ... people want to be able to write their own story. That happens as much at the end of life. At the same time we need to make sure we protect vulnerable people, that was very high in our mind as a principle that could not be abandoned," she said.

Some proponents of assisted-dying are calling for revisions to the legislation during the committee review phase to address the legislation's supposed shortcomings. Philpott left the door open to that sort of change.

"We will be listening as we always do," she said. "We're not closed [to legislative changes] but I want to say that I fundamentally believe this is the right approach. It's legislation that has had countless hours and hard work put into it."

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