The nearly two-year fight by Canada’s federal and provincial governments over the need for new spending on the country’s universal health care system will drag on next year and could further erode confidence in the system you already have.
The health care system, which faced challenges before the pandemic, has come under further strain since then, with severe labor shortages leading to the temporary closure of emergency rooms.
Leaders of the provinces and territories, which administer health services, want more money – known as health transfers – from Ottawa to shore up the overburdened system, but the government is pushing back.
Without a deal this year, the health care system is likely to be at the center of the political debate in 2023.
Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government wants a deal sealed next year, according to a spokesman for federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos’ office.
The provinces want the share of health care costs covered by federal transfers to increase to 35% from 22% now, and to maintain that level over time. The federal government says it already covers 35% of spending with some measures.
Ottawa is offering more money, although it has not yet said how much, but on the condition that the spending meets certain goals, including backlogs, support for health care workers and data collection. Provinces say they retain authority over decisions about how the money is spent.
“If I were to send people all the money they need to the provinces, there’s no guarantee that … people would be waiting less time in hospitals,” Trudeau said in a year-end interview in the ‘CBC broadcast on Tuesday.
“One of the only levers I have is to say, ‘I’m not giving you this money without conditions,'” he said.
About half of Canadians surveyed last month said they were satisfied with health services in the past year, down from 66% in 2021 and 68% in 2020, according to an Ipsos Canada survey.
People are also increasingly concerned about the future viability of universal healthcare, with 57% saying they believe the current rate of spending is unsustainable, up from 52% last year, Ipsos said .
“Canadians are very pessimistic about our ability to sustain the current level of spending,” said Sebastien Dellaire, senior vice president of Ipsos Canada.
Canada has the fourth lowest number of funded acute care beds per capita among the 38-member Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
While increased spending could bring improvements, it will not address the most crucial problem: the rapidly aging population.
As the baby boomer generation ages, health care costs will rise, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), a government-funded research body.
The average expenditure of a person aged 80 or over is seven times higher than that of a person aged 64 or under, CIHI said, noting that public expenditure per person increased by 36% from 2011 to 2020 .
In 2021, about 861,000 of Canada’s nearly 39 million people were 85 or older, according to Statistics Canada. This number is expected to increase steadily to over 2.7 million by 2050.
“This is a federal-provincial government tug-of-war over who is going to pay for a failing health care system,” said Nadeem Esmail, a senior fellow at the Fraser Institute think tank.
© Thomson Reuters 2022.