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The west wing of the B.C. Legislature on Feb. 18, 2013. (Chad Hipolito for The Globe and Mail)

The west wing of the B.C. Legislature on Feb. 18, 2013.

(Chad Hipolito for The Globe and Mail)

Health care to get a boost, but critics slam premium hikes Add to ...

The B.C. government is committing to raise health premiums as well as set tough limits on increases in health-care spending.

Finance Minister Mike de Jong cast both measures as part of a budget without pre-election goodies aimed at balancing the budget.

Mr. de Jong pledged $2.4-billion in extra funding for health care over three years – an average annual increase of 2.6 per cent in line with the target that his predecessor, Kevin Falcon, set in the budget he tabled a year ago. At the same time, the government says its austerity won’t affect health outcomes.

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He said that the health budget came in $250-million under budget in the fiscal year now ending – a sign of the government’s “track record” for savings.

“When you ask whether I am confident that we can effect savings, I am because we have established a record for doing so,” Mr. de Jong said.

Also part of the plan is a 4-per-cent increase in Medical Services Plan premiums as of Jan. 1, 2014, to help fund health care with concurrent adjustments in premium assistance, to be outlined later in 2013.

Mr. de Jong told reporters during a news conference that he did not see it as inconsistent to seek an extra few dollars from B.C. residents when health spending is going up by $2.6-billion.

Total health spending is to hit $17.4-billion, representing 42 per cent of government expenses by 2015-16, according to budget documents.

The government is aiming to control health-care spending through various measures that include what Mr. de Jong called a drive to seek out “efficiencies” in health-care delivery, such as a tougher line in talks with health-care workers, and a more efficient use of hospital resources.

Critics seized on aspects of the health plan as unfair to families with the Hospital Employees’ Union suggesting that MSP premium hikes will be a financial burden on families.

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