At their annual meeting earlier this month, Canada’s Premiers identified “ballooning health costs” are the elephant in their Winnipeg meeting room". Quebec Premier Jean Charest put it bluntly, "Canada has a problem. The cost of health care is rising very rapidly."
According to national media reports BC Premier Gordon Campbell agreed health care costs remain "a significant issue" that must be addressed if the system is to survive.
At the conclusion of their meeting, Mr. Charest, Mr. Campbell and the 11 other Canadian Premiers made a commitment to start talks with the federal government with a view to renewing a multi-billion dollar federal health funding deal that expires in 2014.
Provincial governments want to ensure Ottawa's spending keeps up with their health budgets - which are growing annually by 6%. One of the most significant cost pressures is the care demands associated with an aging society.
Over the past two decades, the nature of federal/provincial health care agreements has evolved. Historically, federal governments have been happy to transfer billions of dollars to the provinces with little or no strings attached other than the Canada Health Act.
In the late 1990s, the federal government successfully started to negotiate health accords that included special policy objectives that were national in scope – in addition to traditional transfer payments.
In the 2000 accord, the focus was on health information technology, early childhood development and expansion of primary care services. In 2004, Premiers and the Prime Minister focused on accountability and reduced waiting lists. In these upcoming discussions, seniors care and the increasing challenges associated with recruitment and retention of health care professionals are likely to be front and centre.
In their 2009 Action Plan update for the BC Health Minister, the BC Care Providers Association encouraged the provinces to get the federal government more involved in the issue and make the challenges associated with our aging society more of a federal priority.