Finance watchdog warns rise in health care spending threatens Premier Doug Ford's balanced budget promise - 2019-03-06
A new report from Ontario's finance watchdog warns health spending is on track to rise 4.6 per cent annually — above the rate of inflation — over the next four years because of population growth and a rising tide of seniors, making it harder for the Ford government to slay the deficit without tax hikes. The independent Financial Accountability Office says recent government decisions to add 15,000 nursing home beds, spend $1.9 billion on mental health over 10 years and the added costs of pay raises to doctors in a new contract are increasing fiscal pressures.
"Transforming health care and balancing the budget without revenue increases will be a significant challenge" if the status quo is maintained, says the 21-page report from the office headed by Peter Weltman. He projects health spending will rise from $61.3 billion this fiscal year — about 41 per cent of spending on government programs — to $73.3 billion in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2023, an increase of $12 billion. While the accountability office established by the previous Liberal government previously saw a path to balancing the budget solely through spending restraint over a four-year period, that would no longer be possible unless the projected increases in health spending are cut by about two-thirds, the report adds.
"Restraining health sector spending to this extent without compromising health care access or quality would be a significant challenge," Weltman warned. "Ontarians would benefit from an informed debate on the province's budget objectives and the trade-offs necessary to achieve them." Premier Doug Ford has promised to cut overall government spending by $6 billion a year, or about four per cent. More details are expected in a spring budget due in the coming weeks from Finance Minister Vic Fedeli, who has promised a "modest, reasonable and pragmatic timetable" to erasing annual budget shortfalls. Weltman noted in his report that the spending projections do not include the impact of the proposed health care reforms outlined by Health Minister Christine Elliott under The People's Health Care Act. Elliott promised that getting medical care in Ontario will become "seamless" under her reforms to erase bureaucratic barriers between hospitals, doctors, home care and dozens of other providers. The government's intent is to make a complicated system easier for patients to navigate, with a new structure that creates a "super agency" called Health Ontario to streamline command-and-control while lumping 20 existing health care agencies like Cancer Care Ontario into the new body.