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Trudeau sets December date for long-sought premiers’ meeting on health care funding

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has set Dec. 10 as the date for a long-sought first ministers’ meeting on federal funding for health care, which will also focus on the coronavirus pandemic.

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc has announced the date on Twitter.

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Premiers have been demanding a meeting since early September and they want it to focus solely on the issue of annual federal transfer payments to provinces and territories for health care.

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However, LeBlanc says the meeting will include discussions on strengthening health care, as well as first ministers’ “continued work together to fight COVID-19” and “the distribution and logistics of vaccines.”

Read more: Coronavirus: Trudeau, premiers to meet in December to address health care funding

LeBlanc doesn’t say whether the first ministers will meet in person or virtually, or some combination of the two.

The Prime Minister’s Office says the logistics are still being worked out.

The federal government this year will transfer to the provinces nearly $42 billion for health care, under an arrangement that sees the transfer increase by at least three per cent each year.

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But the premiers say that amounts to only 22 per cent of the actual cost of delivering health care and doesn’t keep pace with yearly cost increases of about six per cent.

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They want Ottawa to increase its share to 35 per cent and maintain it at that level, which would mean an additional $28 billion this year, rising by roughly another $4 billon in each subsequent year.

Read more: Premiers seeking billions more for health care ask Trudeau to set meeting

On top of the annual transfer this year, the federal government has given the provinces an extra $19 billion to help them cope with the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, including more than $10 billion specifically for pandemic-related health-care costs.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland promised $1 billion more for long-term care homes, which have been hardest hit by the pandemic, in her fiscal update Monday.

But the premiers say all that extra money is one-off; what they need is an increase in annual transfers to ensure stable, long-term funding.