Canadian health-care spending to top $180B

Health-care spending in Canada is expected to reach $183.1 billion this year, up more than five per cent from last year, according to a report released on Thursday.
Public sector spending on drugs has moderated since 2000. ((Nati Harnik/Associated Press))
Health-care spending in Canada is expected to reach $183.1 billion this year, up more than five per cent from last year, according to a report released on Thursday.

The Canadian Institute for Health Information's annual report on national health spending forecast an increase of $241 per person, raising total expenditures to an estimated $5,452 this year.

Health spending has risen since 2008 by more than five per cent, or an estimated $9.5 billion, before inflation.

The growth rate is in line with increases over the last seven years, said Chris Kuchciak, CIHI's manager of health expenditures in Ottawa.

Federal, provincial and territorial health ministries are about midway through the first ministers' 10-year plan to strengthen health care signed in 2004, so money committed then is still going through the system.

It's notable that drug spending has increased by single-digit rates in recent years, compared with double-digit increases in the first part of the decade, when governments tried to moderate drug costs, Kuchciak said.

Over the last 10 years, the public-private split in health spending has stayed about the same, with government contributing about 70 per cent and private providers paying about 30 per cent.

Hospitals take biggest share

Provincial health spending varied depending on the demographics of their populations, health needs and delivery systems.

In 2009, total health-care spending is expected to be highest in Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador, at $6,072 and $5,970, respectively.

Quebec and British Columbia are forecast to have the lowest expenditure per capita at $4,891 and $5,253, respectively.

Alberta and Quebec have been opposite ends of the spectrum for about 10 years.

Hospitals continue to consume the largest slice of Canada's health-care spending pie at $51 billion, followed by drugs and then doctors.

Spending on prescription and over-the-counter drugs is predicted to reach $30 billion this year, while payments to doctors should add up to more than $26 billion.

Start, end of life costs

The report also looked at per capita spending by age group, confirming that birth and end of life tend to be the most expensive times in terms of health care spending.

An infant under the age of one costs an estimated $8,239 per person. Between age one and age 64, spending averaged less than $3,809 per person.

Among seniors, per capita spending jumped to :

  • $5,589 for those aged 65 to 69.
  • $7,732 for those 70 to 74.
  • $10,470 for those 75 to 79.
  • $17,469 for those 80 and older.

Today, seniors account for 44 per cent of total provincial health spending. This has stayed largely the same since 1998 when it was just over 43 per cent.

It hasn't changed significantly over time, Kuchciak said, which is consistent with the fact everyone ages one year at a time.

Population aging "moves like a glacier as opposed to this massive catastrophe overnight," Kuchciak said. "I think policy-makers will be able to respond and react," with programs.

Seniors are also healthier, which makes aging more manageable, he added.

The report also used 2007 data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development to compare health care spending in Canada to other countries.

The U.S. spent almost twice as much as Canada, $7,290 US per capita, versus $3,895 US per capita in Canada.

Per capita total health expenditures in Canada were in the top 20 per cent of the spectrum, Kuchciak said, and were comparable to those of France, Austria and Netherlands.