The provincial government needs to address the growing demand for health care spending, says PC health critic

By Jennifer Bieman, St. Thomas Times-Journal

Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek is seeing red … ink.

The PC Health critic is alarmed by the contents of a report released last week by the Financial Accountability Office of Ontario,  specifically the assessment’s health care projections.

Though the FAO report, Economic and Fiscal Outlook Spring 2016, is predicting “solid growth” in Ontario’s economy overall, it said the ever-growing demand on the health care system far outstrips annual spending increases in the sector.

Ontario’s 2016 budget has capped health care spending increases at 1.8 per cent annually from 2014-15 budget year through to 2019. But the FAO report, citing the combined factors of population growth, aging patients and inflation, said the province requires rates of 5.2 per cent yearly to keep up with demand.

“Given these factors, it is unclear how the government will achieve its target of 1.8 per cent annual spending increases over the next four years,” adised the report, adding this rate reduction is the latest limitation since the province began curtailing health spending increases to 3.1 per cent in 2009-10.

Beyond 2019, the FAO predicts the government will need to boost its increases to 3.8 per cent annually, a rate that’s “still below the underlying growth in demand and costs.”

“The natural growth of the cost of health care will not be met,” said Yurek, worried about the long-term implications of the province’s move.

“The government is ignoring the advice of the financial accountability officer and unfortunately we’re going to see more cuts to our health care system or rationing of services.”

Ministry of Health and Long-term Care spokesperson David Jensen said the province is continuing to support the health care system and is proud of their patient care accomplishments to date.

“We have increased our investments in health care every year and continue to make the investments necessary to build a stronger, more sustainable health-care system,” said Jensen in an email.

“We are investing $12 billion to continue building modern hospital infrastructure, we’re providing an additional $345 million to our hospitals,” he said, adding the province has pledged $250 million for home and community care and another $130 million for cancer care services as well.

Where front line care is concerned, Jensen was quick to point out Ontario hospitals are treating more patients with reduced wait times as a result of $1.9 billion in strategic investments since 2003.

Moving forward however, Yurek said the government needs to address the growing demand for health care spending in two key ways – reducing unnecessary administration and allowing qualified health care professionals to take on more responsibilities within their practices.

“This government needs to take a look at the bureaucracy it’s created over the last 12 years and start streamlining that level and shifting the money towards the front line health care givers,” he said, citing the province’s Community Care Access Centres, which were slammed by an auditor general report for spending as much as 39 cents of every dollar on administration.

Yurek said patient care needs to be paramount and wants to see the government listen to the opinions of the people with firsthand knowledge of front line health care.

“There’s the registered nursing association which has some ideas, pharmacists, doctors and many other that have ideas to save this government some money and provide the best quality care that we deserve,” he said, adding expanding the scope of practice for certain health care workers is a plan that is long overdue.

Yurek admits balancing growing demand with financial realities will not be easy, but said it’s time to come up with a strategy to make Ontario’s health care system the best it can be in the future.

“It’s a long gap to come over to reach balance and provide services that are necessary,” he said.

“It’s going to be difficult because of this government’s mismanagement but you’ve got to start to do something in order to alleviate the bloat of bureaucracy and ensure that people have access to health care services.”