Editorial: The health remedy suggestion no one’s listening to

Published on November 4, 2016
Nursing consolidation

The recent meeting between Canada’s health ministers collapsed in a stalemate over funding as delegates seemed blinded by short-term monetary solutions rather than focused on the long-term needs for Canadians.

A new health accord dominated the agenda for federal, provincial and territorial health ministers — not surprising, since the former agreement expired more than two years ago.

Just before the Toronto meeting, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggested that some of the billions of dollars in health transfers by the previous Conservative government had been diverted by the provinces to other uses. And Health Minister Jane Philpott hinted that any new federal money would come with conditions.

Affronted provincial ministers pushed back hard.  

So it was no surprise the talks collapsed and the accord was kicked down the road to a meeting between the PM, premiers and territorial leaders later this year.

The two sides are far apart on yearly transfers. Ottawa is offering a three per cent increase; the provinces want six. But at least Ottawa is raising accountability issues, while the provinces are offering none.

Not all problems can be cured with more money.

The provinces might prefer former prime minister Stephen Harper’s approach of writing ever larger cheques to the provinces, no questions asked. But that process did nothing to address skyrocketing health costs.

The problem is glaring — yearly increases in provincial health spending drastically exceed the annual increases in federal transfers. An aging population is sure to send health costs surging further.

Ottawa is on the right track but is not going far enough. Taxpayers are tired of massive deficits without results, answers or accountability.

Lost amid the squabbling was a sensible suggestion from the Canadian Nurses Association, which is advocating an accountability framework within a new health accord to benefit patients and taxpayers. The framework would show the relationships between inputs, activities and health results. It would report on outcomes, which the provinces would pass along to Ottawa. Both sides would be held accountable to the public for the use of taxpayers’ funds.

The Canadian Nurses Association agrees with Ottawa’s interest in targeting specific areas like home care, a national pharmacare program and enhanced addictions and mental health services in a cost effective way. And the nurses urge that funds be allocated in a needs-based formula that accounts for demographics and population health. This would address the inequalities in regions such as Atlantic Canada, where one in five residents are senior citizens. Even better, they suggest the changes can be made using existing health-care dollars.

Simply throwing federal money at the provinces won’t solve the problem.

It’s about time someone discussed return on investment in the health-care field. Doing more of the same and expecting a different result is a sign of, well, insanity.