N.B. ranks lowest in Canada for public-sector health spending per capita, data shows

Hospitals represent the largest share of New Brunswick health spending per capita in 2020, at $2,141, putting it in fourth place after Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and P.E.I. The national average was $1,934. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)
Hospitals represent the largest share of New Brunswick health spending per capita in 2020, at $2,141, putting it in fourth place after Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and P.E.I. The national average was $1,934. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)

New Brunswick had the lowest public-sector health spending per capita in Canada in 2020, and among the highest private-sector spending per capita, according to a new web page launched by the New Brunswick Health Council.

The proportion of gross domestic product being spent on health was, however, higher in New Brunswick than the national average, the data shows.

GDP, the total value of all goods and services produced within one year in a specific region, is "a recognized measure that can be a proxy for our ability to pay," said CEO Stéphane Robichaud. "And from that end we're in the top three in the country.

"So it suggests that, you know, the main issue for us is not about necessarily just spending more, but it's about making sure we're getting more value out of what we're spending."

About $5,500 per person in public sector spending

The health council created the web page to give New Brunswickers a better understanding of health spending and how the province compares to other jurisdictions, said Robichaud.

It's based on the latest available data (2020) from the national health expenditure tables published by the Canadian Health Information Institute.

A total of $6.02 billion was spent on health in New Brunswick in 2020.

That includes about $4.32 billion in public-sector spending by the provincial and federal governments or other government agencies, as well as private-sector spending by patients or their health insurance companies for medications or services, such as physiotherapy, dentistry and counselling.

Per capita, that's $7,683, compared to the national average of $8,021. Hospitals ($2,141), medications ($1,138) and physicians ($903) were among the top areas of New Brunswick spending, the web page shows.

For public-sector spending alone, New Brunswick ranked last in the country per capita at $5,513.

Ed Hunter/CBC
Ed Hunter/CBC

New Brunswick private-sector health spending per capita was $2,170, compared to the national average of $2,082, the web page shows.

Medications accounted for the largest share at $815, or 37.5 per cent, which was higher than the Canadian average of $672, or 32.3 per cent. Newfoundland ranked highest for private-sector per capita spending on medications at $825, while Nova Scotia tied with New Brunswick at $815.

Total health spending in New Brunswick represented 16 per cent of the province's GDP. Across Canada, the average was 13.8 per cent.

Nova Scotia led the country at 18 per cent, followed by P.E.I. at 17 per cent, while Quebec tied with New Brunswick at 16 per cent.

'Transformational change'

Department of Health spokesperson Sean Hatchard said New Brunswick is making "significant investments" in health care.

Nearly $3.6 billion has been set aside in the 2023-24 provincial budget, representing an increase of almost $345 million from the previous year, he said.

"That 10.6 per cent increase from the 2022-23 budget is on par for the largest in more than two decades," Hatchard said in an emailed statement.

Through the provincial health plan, New Brunswick is also making "transformational change to improve the delivery and access of services," he said, citing as an example an update to the New Brunswick drug plan, which has improved the affordability of prescription drug coverage for uninsured New Brunswickers, especially low-income earners.

"New and innovative ideas are needed to solve the significant challenges we face in the delivery of care."

Outcomes key

Robichaud said data around health spending outcomes, such as increased access to primary care, or decreased wait times for surgeries, is difficult to come by.

"We've been talking a lot about human resources — nurses, doctors — but to this day we don't have a good grasp of those levels of resources, how they compare provincially, how their times are being used," he said.

The health council plans to update the web page with new components, such as human resources, as that data becomes available, Robichaud said.

"That type of information is going to prove to be very valuable in understanding our current reality, but also in designing the types of plans and the models that would best serve our needs as we move forward," he said.