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Canadian Medical Association President Jeff Turnbull tours Ottawa General Hospital on Dec. 13, 2010. MIME type image/jpeg

No one is expecting the words "health care" to make a significant appearance in next week's federal budget, but the organizations that represent Canadian doctors and nurses have not been deterred from making their pitch.

The Canadian Nurses Association and the Canadian Medical Association released a Nanos Research poll Friday that suggests 45 per cent of Canadians think the federal government should make health care a top priority in the budget, compared to 35 per cent who chose the economy and 15 per cent who chose the environment.

"The government is telling Canadians that its top priority is the economy, while Canadians are saying their No. 1 concern is health care," CNA president Judith Shamian said in a release. "The expectations of Canadians are clear and decision-makers would be unwise to ignore them."

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The government is obligated, as a result of a deal signed by Paul Martin's Liberal government in 2004, to increase health transfers to the provinces by 6 per cent in the next fiscal year, bringing the total amount of those transfers to about $27-billion.

But actual program spending, which includes aboriginal health, is expected to decrease about 10 per cent to about $3.1-billion. To do that, Health Canada will have to phase out some programs, and new initiatives in health care are not anticipated.

Even with departmental cutbacks, the government will be facing a deficit of tens of billions of dollars.

The poll comes as the organizations representing Canada's nurses and physicians hold national consultations with Canadians on the future of the country's health-care system.

The Nanos Research results suggested a strong majority of Canadians would support the introduction of a wide range of health measures in the budget, including home care and pharmacare.

"Over the course of our national dialogue on health care, we've heard repeatedly from Canadians how concerned they are about the current state of medicare," said CMA president Jeff Turnbull. "The fact is, you can't have a healthy economy without healthy Canadians and a robust health-care system to treat them when they are ill. The polling results show that Canadians understand this."

The Nanos national telephone survey was carried out March 12 to 15 and is considered accurate within 2.8 percentage points, plus or minus, 19 times out of 20.

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