Ontario balances budget, promises billions for health care

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TORONTO – Ontario’s Liberal government is promising to inject billions of new dollars into health care in its first balanced budget in a decade, a fiscal plan designed to appeal to nearly everyone in the province ahead of an election next summer.

Crafted by a party in power since 2003 that has been faring poorly in recent polls, the $141-billion budget has measures targeted at both young and old, people who access the health-care system and anyone who owns or rents a home and pays an electricity bill.

The centrepiece of the plan is a $465-million-a-year pharmacare program for children and youth, which would cover prescription medications to treat most acute and common chronic conditions for people under age 25, with no deductible or co-payment. It would start Jan. 1.

The plan will be most beneficial for youth who currently are not covered under private plans or the Ontario Drug Benefit program for social assistance recipients, but government officials weren’t able to say how many people that captures.

In total, the government is promising $11.5 billion in new spending on health care over three years, including money to address hospital overcrowding, funding for mental health and addiction services, cash for hospital construction projects and home care funding.

The budget also includes funds for new child care spaces, money to build schools, measures aimed at seniors and previously announced cuts to electricity bills and plans to cool the housing market.

Much of the projected spending, however, is spread out over multiple years, well past the June 2018 election. But Finance Minister Charles Sousa said his “socially progressive” budget is not a ploy for votes.

“These decisions that we’re making today are not based on election cycles, they’re based on long-term benefit for the people of Ontario,” he said.

Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown said the budget is not, in fact, structurally balanced, because of one-time asset sale money — such as the sale of shares of Hydro One — and accounting “tricks,” such as counting public pension surpluses as assets, against the advice of the province’s Auditor general.

“This budget is a patchwork attempt by a desperate government to fix the mess they’ve created before the next election,” he said. “If they lose this next election this is spending they’ll never have to be accountable for.”

The price tag for the Liberals’ centrepiece pharmacare plan is not in the budget itself and was provided only verbally by staffers.

“Listen, that document is what, 296 pages long,” Sousa said when asked about the absence. “You can’t put everything in the document.”

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, who just this week announced a New Democrat government would bring in universal pharmacare for people of all ages, said the Liberal plan seems last minute.

“I think it’s quite curious as well,” she said. “All I can think of is that they made it up on the back of a napkin before they got to today.”

The Liberals had promised no new taxes on families, though they are increasing tobacco taxes by $10 per carton over the next three years and giving municipalities the power to introduce a hotel tax.

In addition to balancing the books this year, the government is now projecting balanced budgets through to 2019-20. Despite reaching balance, however, the province’s debt continues to grow.

It is projected to be $312 billion this year, growing to $336 billion in 2019-20. Interest on debt is the fourth largest spending area, at $11.6 billion.

Historically low interest rates helped the province get to balance, but interest on debt is still projected to be the fastest growing expenditure area, at an average 3.6 per cent from 2015 to 2020.

Nonetheless, the government paints a rosy economic outlook, projecting two per cent average GDP growth through to 2020, driven by exports and business investment.

On the infrastructure front, spending is growing from a promise last year of $160 billion over 12 years to $190 billion over 13 years. The additional $30 billion will go toward new hospital projects, school renewal and child care expansion.

Ontario will also move ahead with planning a high-speed rail corridor between Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, London and Windsor, the government said in the budget. The project could cut travel times from Toronto to Windsor from the current four hours to two.

Under the education banner, about $16 billion is earmarked over 10 years to build and improve schools at a time when the government is coming under fire for rural school closures. Another $200 million will go to creating 24,000 child care spaces and subsidizing 60 per cent of them.

Seniors are also specifically targeted in the budget. A public transit tax credit for people 65 and older will see 15 per cent of eligible transit costs refunded with an average annual benefit of $130. That is estimated to cost the government about $10 million a year. The measure comes after the federal government announced it was eliminating a 15-per-cent tax credit for commuters who buy a transit pass.

There is also $11 million over three years for a seniors community grant program and another $8 million over three years for new community centres with seniors’ programming. The province has also earmarked $100 million over three years for a dementia strategy that will include helping patients and their caregivers find support and improve training for health-care workers.
Media files

2 COMMENTS

  1. The Financial Accountability Office of Ontario also calculated and submitted to the latest auditor’s general report 4.6 billion dollars in unrecoverable incidents of over-billing an mismanagement..

    Maybe we could ‘knock’ a little louder on some of those doors & remind a few administrators that If Ontario is serious about getting into the ‘Weed Business’ you really shouldn’t be ripping off your dealer this early in the game.

    Just sayin..

  2. HOSPITALS:
    BUDGET: The base rate for all hospitals will be 2%. Some hospitals will get more depending on what programs they have -making the total 3%.

    An increase of 2% would only maintain existing programs and services because inflation is 2%. After 9 straight years of cuts resulting in Ontario having the fewest hospital beds, nurses and staff of any province with unacceptable wait times for procedures, maintaining the current level is unsatisfactory. Ontario needs to restore cut beds, direct patient care and services at the hospital where there aren’t additional charges to the patients. We must also factor in the increased demand on services required from an aging population and an increased population because of immigration.

    The Financial Accountability Office of Ontario calculates that we need 5.3% in order to maintain existing programs and services. (This would meet the rate of inflation plus population growth and aging, plus GDP growth (utilization).

    WHAT WE NEED IS:
    *an evidence-based plan to rebuild public hospital capacity to meet
    population need for care.
    *a moratorium on cuts, costly mergers and restructuring that take money away from
    care.
    *a commitment to stable multi-year public hospital funding that not only meets inflation,
    population growth, ageing and utilization rates but is also enough to rebuild
    capacity.
    *We need to stop and reverse privatization.

    LONG TERM CARE:
    BUDGET:
    *A 2% increase will cover inflation only. This money had already been announced.
    Currently, there is a 3-year waiting list for Long-Term Care in Sault Ste. Marie.
    Some people who should be put on the list aren’t. There will be no new beds with this budget.

    *$10 million for Behavioural supports- This will help with some training for staff & family around caring for those with dementia. The complexity of care needs of Ontario’s Long-Term care residents – the majority of who are 85 years of age or older – has increased significantly. 73 per cent of residents have some form of Alzheimer’s or dementia and most need help with feeding, bathing, toileting and getting out of bed.

    We need a regulated minimum care standard of 4-hours of hands-on care per resident per day on average, and the funding to support this.

    HOME AND COMMUNITY CARE:
    BUDGET:

    *There will be 20 million more in respite care:
    -Due to the privatization of home care providers, a significant part of the funding goes
    to profit rather than the direct care of the people.
    -The families have been waiting a year for a Care Plan: the workers have no Care
    Plan to follow; many care plans should involve describing how to do procedures so
    that the safety of the client is not at risk; different workers are sent, the family
    member can’t take their respite if it involves leaving the house as they must stay to
    supervise.

    *There will be education & training for family health care givers
    -The professional Health Care providers have been trained to do the procedures.
    Now, family members are asked to do procedures far beyond their training. The
    government’s answer is to train the family members because they don’t have to pay
    them.

    *There will be a care giver tax credit
    -Unfortunately, the sum given won’t come close to the out -of-pocket expenses the
    family members are forced to pay.

    PHARMACARE:
    BUDGET:

    A comprehensive pharmaCare plan to cover 4400 medications for those people under 24. It will cost $465 million the first year. The price tag for this plan is not in the budget itself.

    SSM & Area Health Coalition [email protected] 705 254 2885

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