Responsible budgetary decisions needed amidst health & economic crisis

Responsible budgetary decisions needed amidst health & economic crisis

As the Alberta Legislature resumes its business today, and the government sets out to push through it’s 2020 budget, Friends of Medicare have a message for Premier Kenney and Health Minister Shandro: don’t mess with our health care!

The current health care crisis that we are living under presents a learning opportunity for our Minister of Health and government; rather than “pausing” cuts to health care staff and overall cuts to health care, they should acknowledge and recognize that a strong, well-resourced, well-funded, and appropriately staffed health care system is not only the first line of resistance in a health crisis, it is also essential in the best of times. Cuts and erosions to our system do nothing more than procure short-term bottom line gains, in exchange for long-term pain for each and every Albertan.

This government’s first budget saw only a slight increase in health care spending (1%), far below what is necessary to meet Alberta’s inflation and population growth (3.5%). Budget 2020 flatlined health spending even further, despite a minimum of $700 M needed this year to meet population and inflation pressures. Instead, as a result of this shortsighted budget we will see an overall spending freeze, with reductions in much needed areas including:

  • $117 M less in acute care funding 
  • $12 M less for population and public health
  • $46 M less to in diagnostic, therapeutic and other patient services
  • $34 M less for drugs and supplemental health benefits 

Additionally, between the release of the ill-conceived McKinnon report and Ernst & Young’s AHS review, the government has forecasted a potential 5000 health care job losses. We have already seen the unilateral termination of the government’s master agreement with Alberta’s doctors, and expect a resulting drop in physician compensation and development amounting to $83 M, and an exodus of family physicians throughout Alberta, and especially from rural areas.

“Budget 2020 is based on unrealistic forecasts for oil prices and subsequent government revenue.” says Sandra Azocar, executive director of Friends of Medicare. “Put that together with the economic impact that this pandemic will have on all Canadians, and it is clear that this government needs to push the reset button, and go back to the drawing board for Budget 2020.”

The $500 M announced on March 15 to provide tools for testing, surveillance and treatment of patients is merely a band-aid over the damage that has already been done in our health care system. It can not make up for the cuts and erosion that has already occurred, or that will occur as a result of the flawed 2020 budget.

In the midst of our current health crisis, one thing has become all the more evident: we are all in this together. There is much more to be done to ensure that our health care system will be prepared to deal with the health needs of Albertans during this pandemic and after it. The first and most imperative of those being to reverse the cuts to health care funding and staff outlined in Budget 2020.

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