Saskatchewan, federal government reach health-care funding deal in principle

Saskatchewan and the federal government have reached an agreement on health-care funding for the next 10 years.  (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Saskatchewan and the federal government have reached an agreement on health-care funding for the next 10 years. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The Saskatchewan government and the federal government have reached an agreement in principle on health-care funding.

Canada's premiers met last month in Ottawa with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to discuss a deal, and while Ottawa's plan fell short of what the premiers had asked for, an overall agreement was reached. Since the announcement, the federal and provincial governments have held bilateral meetings to finalize individual funding agreements to target those specific areas in each province.

On Wednesday, the federal government announced Saskatchewan will receive a one-time total of $61 million and an additional $111 million annually over 10 years.

The provincial government says the money will be used to "accelerate or enhance" access to primary health-care, surgeries, and mental health and addiction services.

The federal government will invest $5.94 billion over 10 years in Saskatchewan, including $1.11 billion in the new bilateral agreement.

Health Canada said the $61 million immediate investment will "address urgent needs, especially in pediatric hospitals and emergency rooms, and long wait times for surgeries."

Saskatchewan Health Minister Paul Merriman said the agreement "is a positive step that will accelerate and enhance work already underway."

"Saskatchewan continues to make record investments into the health-care system to address key priorities such as reducing surgical backlogs and wait times, and expanding access to mental health services."

Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said the agreement will "improve the experience of health workers and those they care for."

"It will modernize our health-care system, improve access to family health services and mental health services, reduce surgical backlogs and support health workers. Better quality of care means helping residents of Saskatchewan and Canadians live longer, healthier lives."

On Feb. 13, before the premiers agreed with the federal government's funding plan, Premier Scott Moe said Saskatchewan would not turn down the additional money.

"It is a two per cent lift and I don't think anybody — at least Saskatchewan — is considering walking away from any increase in health-care space," he said. "It is all needed." 

Moe and his counterparts had sought an increase in the federal government's share of the Canada Health Transfer, rising  to 35 per cent from 22 per cent, or an additional $28 billion annually.

Merriman said Wednesday the federal government should be increasing its share.

"The provincial government has to backfill those dollars and that's our job … to be able to backfill the dollars [when] the federal government isn't meeting with their obligation. Again, it isn't enough, but it's hard to turn down federal dollars."

One area of concern in recent months has been primary care access in the province. Merriman said the money will not affect that but said changes may be on the horizon.

"We've been working on this primary care compensation for months now, and I don't think it changes the discussion as far as what the primary care team needs. I'm hopeful we can come to some resolution very quickly."

Merriman said the government has had discussions recently with the Saskatchewan Medical Association (SMA) and family physicians.

"We're looking at the fee code, salaries, hours of operation, personal protective equipment. I have had the privilege of meeting with [SMA] multiple times as well as the family physicians to be able to discuss some of their specific needs. I think we're going to be very soon on having a good package that's going to work for the physicians and also at the end of the day work for the patients."

NDP Opposition Leader Carla Beck said Wednesday the province should change the fee model. She said the province is not focusing enough on retention of existing health-care workers.

"Recruitment is important, but this was a province that lost 600 health-care workers last year. We have to stabilize physicians, health-care workers either leaving the profession or leaving the province."

Province to provide action plan for federal money

The federal government said the two sides will work toward shared commitments, including a plan to "collect, use and share depersonalized health information and to inform Canadians of their progress with key common headline indicators."

"Work will now begin on a bilateral agreement based on an initial three-year action plan that will detail targets, timelines and additional common indicators related to the shared health priorities in each jurisdiction," Health Canada said in a news release.

As part of the deal the federal government said it will "streamline foreign credential recognition for internationally educated health professionals and advance labour mobility for key health professionals."

It said Saskatchewan will commit to "an integrated, inclusive approach to investments in health service teams, the health workforce, and data and digital tools that will help to meet the health and mental-health needs of Canadians."

Merriman said the province is prepared to meet the terms set by the federal government.

"The federal government has asked for an action plan on what we're going to do with the dollars, and that action plan is going to consist of what we have been doing: our human resource strategy, our 550 seats we have added into our post- secondary, our 150 addiction beds, our 300 continuing-care aides we are bringing into the province."