Health ministers to ask Ottawa for more money

British Columbia Health Minister Terry Lake is flanked by his provincial and territorial counterparts while speaking during a news conference after the first day of a meeting of the ministers in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday January 20, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

VANCOUVER – The provinces and territories are mounting a united front to persuade the federal government to boost its share of health-care spending to at least 25 per cent of their costs.

British Columbia Health Minister Terry Lake said he and his counterparts will make the request at a meeting on Thursday with federal Health Minister Jane Philpott.

“I don’t think you can talk about health care without talking about money,” Lake told a news conference Wednesday, adding that spending on health care consumes 43 per cent of many of their budgets.

“And so while we are happy to have discussions and have more in-depth discussions around funding, we are clear that we can’t really discuss health care without talking about how we are going to pay for it.”

Philpott has suggested she wants to focus on how to spend money on health care more efficiently.

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Total health spending in Canada was expected to reach $219.1 billion last year, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information. For British Columbia, the current transfer from Ottawa for health care is 22.8 per cent.

READ MORE: National health meetings start in Vancouver

Relations between Ottawa and the provincial and territorial governments is expected to be improved at Thursday’s meeting in Vancouver under the federal Liberals.

Earlier this week, Philpott said the federal government will join a provincial program that buys drugs in bulk to save money. The previous Conservative government had resisted calls to join the program.

Lake has said he’s not expecting huge breakthroughs on funding formulas at Thursday’s meeting, but talks could pave the way for agreements in the fall.

On Wednesday, he said the provinces and territories were unable to reach agreement around health transfers because the circumstances always dictate winners and losers.

But he described their talks as “frank and open.”

“It was very spirited,” Lake said.

Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins said the provinces appreciate the new federal government’s “refreshing” approach to collaborating with the provinces, but that doesn’t mean Philpott will get a free pass.

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“I think it is fair to say that there is a spirit in the room today which is really enthusiastically looking forward to a different type of relationship with our federal partner,” Hoskins said.

“That doesn’t mean that we are not going to, all of us, have the best interests of the citizens of our provinces and territories at the fore.”

Lake said the ministers put their heads together on several other key issues, ranging from improving newborn blood-screening practices to how youth with mental health and substance abuse problems transition into the adult system.

On the incoming legal changes around physician-assisted dying, he said they reached consensus around the clarity they want from the federal government.

They agreed with an expert panel recommendation that age not be a barrier to accessing a doctor’s help, and also that there shouldn’t be mandatory wait times, he said.

The new government’s commitment to legalizing marijuana will also form part of the talks with Philpott on Thursday, Lake said.

“We, I think, as health ministers feel strongly that a very strong public health lens should be brought to any framework around legalization.”


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