Conservatives to slowly gut Ottawa's health-care support

Ottawa is gradually gutting its role in medicare – and passing ball to provinces – Parliament's budget watchdog said in a forward-looking report released today.
 
Kevin Page, the parliamentary budget officer, crunched the numbers up to 2041 after Finance Minister Jim Flaherty unveiled a federal retreat from health-care involvement and a gradual erosion of funding increases to provinces last month.
 
Page said the move to reduce federal-provincial payments puts Ottawa on more solid financial ground – but leaves provinces shouldering more of the burden of medicare. Provinces cannot afford to take on more health responsibilities, Page warned, without slashing expenses or boosting taxes.
 
Although Prime Minister Stephen Harper insisted the federal government will continue supporting health-care, Page's report discovered that projected increases in provincial costs will outstrip Ottawa's promised transfer payments by 2016-2017.
 
His report was published only days before premiers from across Canada gather in Victoria for a pivotal meeting on health-care financing, which starts on Sunday. The Vancouver Observer will have a reporter on the ground at that meeting.
 
Flaherty surprised many last month with an announcement that Ottawa would no longer attach strings to its medicare transfers, leaving provinces to figure it out. The no-strings attached model was quickly criticized by the province of Ontario as a signal of reduced federal involvement.
 
Starting in 2017, the report projects that federal funding will only rise proportionally to economic growth, projected to lift medicare funding by an 3.9 per cent on average – a significant reduction compared to the previous six per cent.

Such a move will whittle down Ottawa's stake in medicare funding to roughly 18.6 per cent in the coming decades – down from 20.4 per cent today. That small percentage change translates into billions of dollars of health-care.
Barring a change in government or policy, that percentage will continue to plummet after 2035 if the policy continues.
 
Page's report comes the same day as 34 national health organizations released their own report, warning of a deteriorating health-care system caused by a lack of federal and provincial leadership.
 
The Health Action Lobby – a group of 34 national health organizations – conducted a poll of leading experts on medicare, comparing Canada to other health care regimes worldwide.

The coalition warned that Ottawa must not take a back-seat on an important national problem like health, and called on the federal government to step up and co-operate in tackling problems of home care, long-term care, wait times, mental health and disease management.

“For Canada to rank among countries with the healthiest populations, we need a broadly shared vision of health and health care, sustained leadership by the federal government, as well as action and accountability on the parts of provincial and territorial governments, health care providers and the public,'' the coalition said in its report.

With files from The Canadian Press.

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