'Big wins' for N.L., says Premier Furey of proposed $196B federal health deal

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey says there are some wins in Ottawa's proposed health deal with provinces and territories.  (Peter Cowan/CBC - image credit)
Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey says there are some wins in Ottawa's proposed health deal with provinces and territories. (Peter Cowan/CBC - image credit)
Peter Cowan/CBC
Peter Cowan/CBC

A 10-year, $196 billion federal health-care plan proposed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday promises an influx of new cash for Canada's provinces and territories to get a handle on their struggling medical systems.

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey joined Canada's other premiers in Ottawa to put pressure on their federal counterparts to strike a long discussed deal for additional health-care funding Tuesday afternoon.

About $46.2 billion of that total will be new money, all of which will be shared across the country.

"This provides some certainty projected into the future to allow us to tackle the fiscal equation of health," Furey told reporters shortly after Tuesday's announcement.

"It shouldn't just be about money. It needs to be about modernization of a health-care system that is really stuck in the 1960s. Some of the conversations that began today certainly help us develop that."

A sticking point in earlier conversations between provinces and the federal government was the demand for added funding to the Canada Health Transfer (CHT), which helps fund public health. The premiers got exactly that, with an unconditional $2-billion increase to address the ongoing pressure on pediatric hospitals, emergency rooms and surgical and diagnostic backlogs along with the promise of a five per cent annual hike to the CHT for the next five years.

Funding will also be permanently increased in the years following.

Of that immediate $2 billion national pool, Newfoundland and Labrador will see about $27 million. The five per cent guaranteed increase will give the province an additional $210 million annually for five years.

"It is a significant increase for us," Furey said. "It's not the quantum we were looking for, so I suppose there will always be an element of disappointment in that. But the transformational piece, combined with the ability to have more cash immediately is good for Newfoundland and Labrador."

But there are conditions to accessing the enhanced CHT. Provinces have to commit to improving "how health information is collected, shared, used and reported to Canadians to promote greater transparency on results, and to help manage public health emergencies."

That includes recording the data for a number of issues the province is facing, such as the number of residents without a regular family health team, doctor or nurse practitioner; the size of the COVID-19 surgery backlog; to net new family physicians, nurses and nurse practitioners; the percentage of residents between 12 and 25 years old with access to mental health and substance use services; and median wait times for community mental health services.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press
Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The commitment will also include an agreement to "develop and use comparable indicators through the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) and its data partners."

The idea behind the commitment is that the federal government can use the data to follow health-care performances and outcomes, along with the ability for Canadians to access their own health information so that it can be shared more efficiently with health professionals across other jurisdictions.

Over $850M for bilateral agreements

Newfoundland and Labrador will also see $749 million in "tailored bilateral agreements."

On Monday, Furey said N.L. needed more money to implement the Health Accord plan, which is hoped to modernize the province's health-care system.

Provincial and territorial governments are asked to develop action plans that will describe how funds will be spent and how progress will be measured.

"I think from Newfoundland and Labrador's perspective that is a win for us as opposed to the per-capita formulation basis from before," Furey said.

The federal government outlined four areas where it expects the money to be used, but it's giving flexibility to each jurisdiction:

  • Expanding access to family health services, including in rural and remote areas

  • Supporting health workers and reducing backlogs

  • Improving access to quality mental health and substance use services

  • Modernizing the health care system with standardized health data and digital tools

Another $105 million is going toward "other bilateral agreements," which includes mental health and substance abuse supports, home and community care funding and long-term care. The money from both tiers of bilateral agreements is essentially earmarked to address the "unique needs" of the province with the geography and the population in mind.

Additionally, provinces and territories are asked to streamline the process for recognizing foreign credentials for internationally-educated health professionals and to advance labour mobility starting with multi-jurisdictional credential recognition for certain "key" health professionals.

"I think there are some really big wins for Newfoundland and Labrador in this proposal," Furey said.

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