“Health care budget” important first step in restoring medicare

News release

But federal contribution in 2004 will only reach 1995 levels, says HEU

B.C.’s largest health care union says today’s federal budget is an important but limited measure to restore and strengthen a medicare system straining from years of federal transfer payment cuts.

“Today’s budget is positive news for B.C.’s health care system and will provide some relief for overloaded front-line caregivers,” says Chris Allnutt, secretary-business manager of the 45,000 member Hospital Employees’ Union. “But it’s important to put the new spending in perspective.”

“The federal government has cut transfer payments to B.C. by $600 million since 1995 — about half of that destined for health care,” says Allnutt. “Under the new federal spending plan, health care transfer payments to B.C. will return to 1995 levels and remain there until at least 2004.”

In today’s budget, Finance Minister Martin announced $2 billion in new transfer payments for health care to the provinces in 1999/00. B.C.’s share is about $240 million. That amount will rise to $2.5 billion ($300 million for B.C.) in 2001/2002 where it will remain until 2003/2004.

“That level of commitment is anemic in the face of a growing and aging population with more complex care needs, increasingly expensive pharmaceuticals, and costly new medical technologies,” says Allnutt.

Allnutt says that new federal funding will help reverse the trend towards private spending on health care services which has grown to more than 30 per cent under the Liberals. But he says the federal government must take steps to include medicare coverage of community care and home care services which are playing an increasingly important role in the health care of Canadians.

“Without legislated coverage of home care as an insured service under medicare, the result of health care restructuring will be increased privatization,” says Allnutt.

Allnutt also pointed out that while the federal government is increasing funding to health care, it has failed to take steps to address some of the key determinants of health.

“If the federal Liberals had adopted a more proactive approach to improving the health of Canadians,” says Allnutt “they would have taken dramatic measures in this budget to address our national homelessness crisis, restore insurance benefits for unemployed Canadians and more vigorously tackle child poverty.”