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Health-care funding formula changes can be held off: Ontario

TORONTO—As the country’s health ministers prepare to meet in Vancouver, Ontario already is saying decisions on changing the health-care funding formula should be left for another day.

During last year’s election campaign, the Trudeau Liberals promised to negotiate a new health accord with the provinces and territories, including a long-term deal on funding.

B.C. Health minister Terry Lake says B.C. and the Atlantic provinces are not satisfied with the current funding formula because it doesn’t recognize the higher costs borne by provinces with aging populations.

But Ontario wants the provinces, territories, and federal government to focus on what they want in a new health care accord at the meeting that begins tomorrow and talk about the distribution of funds at a later date.

Ontario Health minister Eric Hoskins said scientific and policy experts are divided on the health cost impacts of an aging population, which he insists are “not at all clear.”

Hoskins noted a change in the health funding formula would “essentially be a wash” for Ontario, so it’s in a unique position to look at any increased burden on the system from the growing population of aging “baby-boomers.”

“The evidence points to the contrary, that it does not necessarily, and is not creating a tsunami of increased health-care costs,” he argued.

Federal Health minister Jane Philpott, who will join her counterparts Thursday for the second day of their talks, said she hopes the provinces and territories aren’t “too distracted” by the specifics of the federal health transfers.

“Making sure we agree on where the changes need to be made,” stressed Philpott.

“Injecting more money into the system isn’t always the way to go, and isn’t always the best way to be able to drive change,” she reasoned.

Ontario also wants to set up a working group to look at the issue of out-of-province coverage of air ambulance services, which are not covered under reciprocal agreements between provinces that allow Canadians to get most medical services anywhere in the country using just their health card.

“This, I think, is clearly a natural extension of that [reciprocal agreements],” said Hoskins.

“It’s part of the emergency acute process of making sure someone gets the health-care attention that we would want them to get.”

Also on the health ministers’ agenda this week is physician-assisted dying, after the Supreme Court of Canada last week gave the federal government a four-month extension to come up with new legislation dealing with the issue.

The provinces also may have to pass legislation of their own.

“My perspective as minister, and also a physician, is that it needs to be one option among many,” noted Hoskins.

“It needs to be embedded in our overall approach to palliative and end-of-life care.”

Ontario has been working on doctor-assisted dying since the Supreme Court struck down the old law a year ago, and the College of Physicians and Surgeons has drafted guidelines for doctors on how best to handle the issue, added Hoskins.

“We’re in the middle of some pretty intensive consultations with Ontarians, criss-crossing the province to get their direct input and advice as to what this should look like,” he said.

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