Rapid Recap: B.C. and Alberta Make Record Investments in Health
Tuesday, February 28, 2023
B.C. Minister of Finance Katrine Conroy today announced close to $6.4 billion in new spending on health care over the next three years as part of Budget 2023. This includes a major expansion to mental health and addictions services, new funding for health professionals and the new cancer strategy announced last week. Of note, B.C. will be the first province to make prescription contraception free for all residents starting April 1. This was first promised in the B.C. NDP’s 2020 campaign platform and will cost $119 million over three years.
Alberta Minister of Finance Travis Toews also tabled his government’s budget today, which provides $4.2 billion in new spending over three years for health care. This funding will help reduce wait times for access to both emergency rooms and surgery, improve ambulance response times, grow the number of health care workers and provide capital funding to expand and modernize hospitals and other facilities.
Summary of B.C. Government Budget 2023
Expanding access to health services
- $2.6 billion over three years to support the growing demand for health services, which includes caring for a growing and aging population and addressing inflationary costs on supplies and equipment.
- This includes the range of health services delivered under the Medical Services Plan, PharmaCare, and in hospitals and cancer centres, surgical care, and urgent and primary care clinics.
B.C. Cancer Action Plan
- $270 million over three years will enhance access to screening, early detection, and diagnostic and treatment services.
- Funding will also expand cancer care teams and hours, accelerate access to treatment and support cancer research
New payment model for family doctors
- $1.1 billion over three years to implement B.C.’s new payment model for family doctors to help protect, support and strengthen the primary health care system and patient care.
Growing the number of health care workers
- $1 billion in additional funding for the new health workforce strategy announced in September 2022.
- This strategy will add more doctors, nurses, allied health and health sciences professionals, and new education and training seats, while streamlining entry for professionals educated outside of Canada.
Free prescription contraception
- $119 million over three years to fully cover prescription contraception products starting April 1 of this year. This will make British Columbia the first jurisdiction in Canada to provide free prescription contraception to its residents.
Mental health and addictions
- $867 million to strengthen mental health, addictions and treatment services. This includes investments in prevention, harm reduction, safe supply, withdrawal management as well as treatment and recovery.
COVID-19 health response
- $875 million in this fiscal year for ongoing COVID-19 health response measures.
- This includes funding for ongoing COVID-19 and influenza vaccination programs, the provision of personal protective equipment for health care workers, COVID-19 testing and other preventative measures
New health capital investments
- $11.2 billion over the three years to support new major construction projects and upgrading of health facilities, medical and diagnostic equipment and information management/technology systems.
Summary of Alberta Government Budget 2023
Adding capacity and reducing wait times
- $237 million over three years is allocated for the Alberta Surgical Initiative Capital Program, including $120 million in new funding to support additional projects in AHS-owned facilities to increase surgical capacity and help reduce wait times.
Emergency medical services and improved ambulance response times
- $196 million over three years will strengthen Emergency Medical Services (EMS) by hiring more staff and implementing recommendations made by the Alberta EMS Provincial Advisory Committee.
- $15 million over three years for new EMS vehicles and to replace or upgrade related equipment.
Growing the number of health care workers
- $158 million this year for workforce planning to increase the number of health care professionals in Alberta, which includes expanding physician training and recruiting more internationally educated physicians and nurses.
- $250 million over four years (beginning in 2022–23) is targeted to recruitment and retention programs and specific funding for programs to support physicians, particularly family doctors in rural areas. This funding is allocated as part of the agreement with the Alberta Medical Association.
Improving primary health care
- $243 million over three years is allocated through the Modernizing Alberta’s Primary Health Care System (MAPS) initiative.
- Areas of improvements and recommendations will be provided to the Minister of Health by the three advisory panels in spring 2023.
Expand and modernize hospitals and other facilities
- $105 million over three years for the Rural Health Facilities Revitalization Program, with $75 million in additional funding to support new capital projects in rural Alberta.
- $105 million over three years for Medical Device Reprocessing (MDR) upgrades, including $96 million in new funding which will provide needed MDR upgrades in Calgary, Edmonton, Ft. McMurray, St. Albert and Westlock.
- $310 million over three years in capital funding will modernize continuing care facilities, provide culturally appropriate care for Indigenous peoples and add new spaces in priority communities having greatest need.
- $120 million in 2024–25 to support new continuing care projects in Calgary and Edmonton.
Additional Detail and Analysis
This is the first budget delivered since David Eby became Premier last fall. The next election is not scheduled until October 2024, but there remains speculation that Eby may call a snap election before then. This budget invests heavily in health, but also in other government priorities including affordability, housing and public safety which the public consistently identifies as top issues.
Health is the largest line item in B.C.’s budget with $6.4 billion in new spending allocated. The Finance Minister called investing in health a top priority with a third of the new dollars simply to keep up with a growing and aging population as well as inflation. The two new showcase announcements were the major expansion to mental health and addictions services and the fulfillment of the B.C. NDP’s 2020 campaign commitment to offer free prescription contraception. Three of the other big-ticket items, the health workforce strategy, the new family physician’s payment model, and the new Cancer Action Plan, were all announced previously. Of note, the new federal health care agreement agreed to in principle earlier this month is not included in revenues as details have yet to be finalized. As a result, we could see additional health spending announced mid-year.
Economic growth in the province is expected to slow to 0.4% in 2023 which is in contrast to the 2.8% expansion B.C. experienced in 2022. As a result, B.C. is forecasting a deficit of $4.2 billion this fiscal year due to increased spending and decreased revenue. However, layers of contingencies and prudence may see that projected deficit decrease throughout the year. B.C. is predicting economic growth of 1.5% in 2024 and 2.4% in 2025, suggesting the economic slowdown will be short lived.
Alberta’s budget is the last before UCP Premier Danielle Smith faces the voters in May. This budget clearly lays out broad themes that the UCP will likely focus their election campaign on. These include fiscal responsibility, investments in both rural Alberta as well as major urban centres and improving timelines in Alberta’s health system.
Beyond its commitment to invest in a number of key areas, the budget speaks to the traditionally fiscally conservative themes of the UCP. This is Alberta’s second balanced budget in a row, 2022-2023 being the first balanced since 2014-2015, with the projected surplus of $2.4 billion being a significant increase from the $500 million surplus of the last budget.
Ultimately, no matter which party takes the reins of government at the end of May, there are still significant challenges to address in Alberta’s health care system. Today’s budget offered the United Conservative Party’s vision to tackle these problems over the next four years.
If you have any questions about these budgets, please contact your Santis Health lead.
To read the B.C. Government News Release click here
To review the B.C. Government’s Budget 2023 documents click here
To read the Alberta Government News Release click here
To review the Alberta Government’s Budget 2023 documents click here