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Premiers focus on cuts and ignore falling federal health care funding

Niagara-on-the-Lake, CUPE

As feared yesterday-- the premiers rolled.

Their media release on health care that came out as their meeting in Niagara-on-the-Lake ended didn't even dare to beg for better federal health care funding.  It didn't even utter the word "federal". 

Despite the hole the new federal funding policy will leave in provincial coffers, despite the protestors who told the premiers yesterday that federal funding was THE issue, restoring federal health care funding was a complete non-issue for the premiers.

In another release on fiscal arrangements they did recall that last year the Premiers' Fiscal Arrangements Working Group  had reported  "federal health care funding would be reduced by almost $36 billion over the 10-year period from 2014/15 to 2023/24 compared to the arrangements currently in place".  

But instead of demanding the cut be reversed, they asked only that the federal government "avoid further unilateral changes to programs".

What's 36 billion dollars after all. 

What did they focus on then?  Aside from some claims about cost savings through joint purchasing of pharmaceutical drugs, the release states:
"the two other significant priority areas for the working group over the next year are appropriateness of care and seniors care." 
 Their focus is on cost cutting: [1] save "$220 million" by eliminating what they claim are "unnecessary tests",  and [2] substitute (cheaper) home care for (more expensive) long-term care.

There is no dispute that more public home care is desperately needed and that living at home is preferable to long-term care  -- where possible.  But playing home care off against long-term care  in Ontario has been used to rationalize the near freeze on new long term care beds, despite massive growth in the relevant population (the 85 plus age group).

This has created a huge wait list for long-term care, which the government has tried to deal with not by creating more capacity, but by narrowing the definition of who is eligible to be on the wait list.  

Worse, the growth in the population needing round-the-clock care is not going to stop any time in the next twenty-five years.  So without major growth in publicly funded long-term care, more people will be forced into private retirement homes -- if they can afford it.

Pretending that this can all be resolved by a bit more home care is just not going to work.

Notably, the premiers also suggested expanding the role of paramedics and pharmacists, asking the premiers' health care working group "to examine opportunities within the team-based model framework to increase the important role paramedics and pharmacists play in the provision of front line services."

Why the silence on federal funding?  The federal government has announced that it will reduce its long-standing funding increases for the provinces for health care from 6% to as little as 3%.   Over the years, this will amount to a loss of $36 billion.

For whatever reason, the premiers have decided to let the Harper government get away with it -- diminishing the federal government's role in setting national health care standards and national health care funding.
OFL, skeleton, Niagara on the lake

This will create more inequality between the provinces for health care service and increasing problems for public health care sustainability.  It appears the public will have to step in and demand better, as the premiers are not.

Might Kathleen Wynne and the other premiers do better later?  Precious little sign of this so far -- and precious few opportunities left to squander before the cuts are implemented.

At best, Premiers Selinger, Redford, Alward, and Ontario's Premier Kathleen Wynne "will chair further work by Finance Ministers to develop a set of specific options for Premiers’ consideration at their 2014 summer meeting for modernizing both traditional fiscal arrangements and specific economic programs."

By the way here is a great video fom the Ontario Federation of Labour on the fight back against Stephen Harper's attack on public healthcare: just click here.

Photo: CUPE at Niagara-on-the-Lake Health Care Accord Rally July 25, CUPE Ontario
Photo 2 :Niagara-on-the-Lake courtesy of the OFL


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