Ottawa should immediately put more than $4-billion in targeted funds into seniors' care, home care, long-term care and catastrophic drug coverage, rather than sticking with the 6-per-cent annual increase in general health transfers that the provinces are demanding, Canada's doctors say.
The president of the Canadian Medical Association, which represents the country's 83,000 physicians, said the federal and provincial governments need to hammer out a new health accord that will improve patient care in the short and long term, instead of obsessing solely about the bottom line.
"Money is important. Sure it is," Granger Avery told The Globe and Mail in an interview Tuesday. "But if we don't address how we actually engage and make our system function, then we've missed the boat."
Dr. Granger, a rural medicine specialist from British Columbia, was in Toronto for a meeting between federal Health Minister Jane Philpott and her provincial and territorial counterparts, where funding for health care has been the main flashpoint.
The provinces have been calling on the Trudeau government to extend a 6-per-cent-a-year hike in the Canada Health Transfer that has been in place since 2004, but Dr. Philpott said Monday she needs proof that federal dollars are actually improving the system before her government would consider reversing the Harper government's plan to halve the increase in transfers beginning next spring.
The CMA released a report on the eve of Tuesday's meeting urging Ottawa to establish new, targeted health care funds instead of getting bogged down in arguments over the transfer formula.
The report recommends that Ottawa create a "demographic top-up" of $1.6-billion, beginning next year, that could be split among the provinces and territories based on their proportion of seniors.
That amount alone is more than the $1-billion the provinces stand to lose if the federal transfer increase is reduced to a minimum of 3 per cent from 6 per cent, as planned.
As well, the CMA is calling for a catastrophic drug coverage plan ($1.57-billion in 2016-2017); refundable tax credits for family caregivers ($90.8-million); and money to fix up and build more long-term-care homes ($540-million.)
The doctors' group also backs the Liberals' campaign promise to plow $3-billion into home care, $400-million of it next year.
"This health accord is the best opportunity we've had for several decades to actually advance Canadian health care," Dr. Avery said. "What we have now is a prime minister who is really engaged in Canadian health care and has appointed a physician [as health minister] who gets it, who has experience and who has an interest in making sure we actually improve health care in Canada."
On top of that, the fiscal pressure for provinces is becoming so severe – health accounts for nearly half of some provincial budgets – that a long-term overhaul of the system is unavoidable. A new health accord could address that, Dr. Avery said.
"How do we actually manage change in health care? How do we think about it? What pieces do we put first? At the moment, we're confronted with a robbing-Peter-to-pay-Paul situation," he said. "That's possibly not the best way to think about improving the overall system."