Restrained spending in budget 2019 is the wrong prescription for Alberta
Although budget 2019 sees a slight increase in spending in health care (1%), it does not meet inflation and population growth (3.5%). "When a government is not able to provide health care to meet the needs of a growing population, it is a cut," says Sandra Azocar, executive director of Friends of Medicare. "As one goes down line by line through the budget, what we're seeing is a decrease in most areas of the health care budget."
In the following three fiscal years, the government is planning to completely freeze spending in health care. In terms of the impact on Albertans, a freeze is effectively a cut - over 4 years, the spending freeze will amount to a 15% reduction in health care spending.
Other sectors, like Seniors and Housing, and Community and Social Services will also see increases well below inflation and population growth, and their spending frozen over the following 3 years. The Alberta Seniors Drug Benefit Program will be cut off for all non-senior dependents, and the government is considering income testing for seniors’ drug benefits.
Income Support (IS), Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH), and Special Needs Assistance programs will no longer be annually adjusted to the Alberta Consumer Price Index, which will have tangible impacts the health of Albertans. These social determinants of health will undoubtedly have downstream effects on our already burdened health care system.
Overall, the government aims to reduce the size of Alberta’s public sector by 7.7% over four years (21.7% when adjusted for inflation and population).
To claim that these cuts will have “minimal effects” on people, as the Premier did in his pre-budget address yesterday, ignores and undervalues the importance of the public services on which Albertans rely. Our integral public services have long been at the mercy of the impacts of ill-prepared-for downturns in Alberta’s resource-reliant economy. We have seen these kinds of cuts to before, and we know the impact that they have on our jobs, our health, and our dignity.
“Albertans do not stop needing health care based on whether the economy is down or on an upward trend,” says Azocar. “The most vulnerable and least powerful will pay the greatest price. But in the end, we all pay the price of growing inequality and insecurity.”
Public health care and robust public services are not a special interest. They are in the best interest of each and every Albertan, and at the heart of a strong and healthy Alberta. “The measure of a budget should be not some bogus measure of fiscal health, but rather how it will contribute to human health now and in the future,” says Azocar. “Behind all the stats, health policies, and regulations, there are people who depend on not having to worry if they can afford access to quality health care based on need, and not on their ability to pay.”
This is our new reality. Friends of Medicare are calling on this government to make true on their “public health care guarantee” and to move away from the understaffing, underfunding and under-resourcing of an essential public service. Albertans want to see a more responsive public health care system, and that can only be achieved by improving and expanding our current system, not by seeking private, for-profit solutions.
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