Following the money at Alberta Health--there are major expenses in this area that need to be curtailed. I doubt that the NDP folks are up to this job and we will have to wait to get the changes required to decrease the expenditures in this area.There are intelligent ways to decrease the costs of health programs and certainly I don't see evidence of such intelligence in the budgets at the GOA. What is required is consolidation of the two health authorities into one, better management of information with increased use of a productive information technology staff that is expert quality rather than old school government and finally a determined directed funding of the continuing care system to increase staff:resident ratios and staff quality to decrease hospitalizations, transfers and evictions. It's clear to me that we do not as yet have the quality of work in budget making at the GOA that is essential.
Alberta health spending rises over $20 billion, even as province tries to 'bend the cost curve'
Published on: April 15, 2016 | Last Updated: April 15, 2016 8:23 AM MDT
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley gives the thumbs up before Finance Minister Joe Ceci delivers the 2016 budget in Edmonton on Thursday April 14, 2016. JASON FRANSON / THE CANADIAN PRESS
Alberta is set to surpass $20 billion in health spending for the first time this year, as the NDP government moves ahead with major investments in continuing care spaces, information technology and midwifery services.
Though critics blasted the government for failing to do more to rein in the province’s biggest area of expense, Health Minister Sarah Hoffman defended her approach of planned, cautious moves to slow the growth of spending.
“We are not going to be looking at moving wrecking balls through essential hospitals, like we saw in the 1990s. That certainly didn’t benefit us and it left us with a big backlog,” Hoffman said.
“If we had a freeze, we would be looking at having to lay off staff. And we need to reduce wait times, and if you cut access for MRIs, CT scans and cancer surgeries, it would do the opposite.”
The health budget unveiled Thursday largely followed the playbook the NDP government laid out last fall with its first budget. As expected, overall health expenditures are budgeted to rise this year by about $507 million, or three per cent, from projected spending in 2015-16. In subsequent years, the government plans to have annual increases of around two per cent, well down from the average six-per-cent hikes seen under the Progressive Conservatives.
Alberta Health Services receives the bulk of the funding, $14.3 billion, which includes a $175-million increase this year.
Fourten billion (dollars) is bigger than many provinces’ operating budgets. — Health Minister Sarah Hoffman
However, the money is being provided in more restrictive envelopes, with specific amounts set aside for home care, continuing care, ambulances and other areas.
“When our premier was in opposition, we were incredibly frustrated, and I think Albertans were frustrated and wanted to see more transparency,” Hoffman said. “Fourteen billion (dollars) is bigger than many provinces’ operating budgets.”
Hoffman said the province has asked AHS to boost funding for midwives by $1.8 million in each of the next three years. That is expected to help an additional 400 pregnant women get access to a midwife each year.
Hoffman has said her government’s efforts to “bend the cost curve” on health spending over time is particularly focused on three big expenses: doctors, hospitals and drugs.
With physicians, the government and the Alberta Medical Association have begun negotiations on controlling the rise in doctors’ pay, including reforms to change how doctors are compensated.
The budget makes a start in that direction with a $63-million increase this year in physician pay, much lower than recent history. Hoffman said the government is also looking at making better use of other health services and professionals such as nurse practitioners, and HealthLink.
As for reducing hospital use, one of the government’s main approaches is to add new continuing care units. The budget features $165 million over the next two years to help build 25 projects announced last fall that are expected to add 2,000 new long-term care and dementia spaces. An additional $100 million in each of 2018 and 2019 have been earmarked for future continuing care projects.
Wildrose health critic Drew Barnes said Albertans are angry not just at high levels of spending but at perceptions the money is not being well spent. He noted recent statistics showing lengthening wait times for cancer surgeries despite an increase in funding last year.
“My concern with the $500 million extra they want to put in next year, are Albertans actually going to have better results,” Barnes said. “There has been a lot of talk about bending the costs curve, but we just haven’t seen it.”
The entire capital budget to build health infrastructure is nearly $3.5 billion over the next five years, though more than a third of it will be eaten up by construction of the new Calgary Cancer Centre. A final estimate for that project has yet to be announced, with construction not ready to start until 2017 or 2018.
No new funding was announced for major health projects in Edmonton, though Hoffman noted there is money to continue planning redevelopments of the Misericordia and Royal Alex hospitals, and potentially a new medical lab facility.
As well, $400 million will go toward creating a new “clinical information system” that will help create a single health record for patients that can be accessed throughout the health network. The system is expected to be rolled out first at University Hospital, and then expand to other facilities across the province.
Sandra Azocar of the advocacy group Friends of Medicare called the budget a “relief” for people who depend on health care: “A three-per-cent increase is not ideal, but it will allow the government some time to find where else we can find efficiencies and cost containment.”
• A total of $500 million in the capital budget over the next five years is still unallocated. It will go to future health projects that have yet to be determined.
• An increase of about $6 million for mental health services. Interim Liberal leader David Swann, who co-authored a recent review of the mental health system, said the amount is a “pittance” to address the high level of unmet need. However, he said the province needs to clarify lines of responsibility for mental health before more money is invested.
• Funding for Primary Care Networks will jump by $64 million to $233 million. The increase comes after a year in which PCNs were expected to self-fund part of their operations by using $50 million in accumulated surpluses.
• Within the AHS budget, there are increases of $67 million for home care and $126 million for community and continuing care.