Saskatchewan signs nearly $6-billion health-care deal with federal government

SASKATOON — Saskatchewan's health minister says a new health funding deal with the federal government should help speed up measures already underway to improve access to primary health care, surgeries and mental health and addictions services.

"We are happy that the federal government has stepped up with some dollars," Paul Merriman said Wednesday.

The agreement in principle will bring nearly $6 billion into the province's health-care system over the next 10 years.

The deal includes $1.11 billion for a new bilateral agreement focusing on shared health-care priorities. It also provides Saskatchewan with a one-time $61 million top-up to the Canada Health Transfer to address urgent needs, especially in pediatric hospitals and emergency rooms.

Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said the deal with Saskatchewan is an opportunity to continue collaboration and improve the experience of health workers and patients.

"Better quality of care means helping residents of Saskatchewan and Canadians live longer, healthier lives," Duclos said in a news release.

Saskatchewan was the eighth province to sign a deal with Ottawa on health-care funding, following Alberta, the four Atlantic provinces, Ontario and Manitoba. Later Wednesday, British Columbia also announced an agreement in principle.

The agreements in principle are a first step to completing the $196-billion, 10-year health-care funding proposal that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made on Feb. 7.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe previously said that offer was much less than what provinces wanted but that no region was in a position to turn it down.

Merriman said the deal remains much below the demand from Canada's premiers that Ottawa increase its share of health-care funding to 35 per cent.

"The impact of the shortfall is the provinces have to pick up any slack that is not there," he said.

As part of the new agreement, Canada also committed to working with Saskatchewan to streamline foreign credential recognition for internationally educated health professionals. But Merriman said the federal government has not made any specific commitments around this issue.

Many of Saskatchewan's pressures are connected to human resources, Merriman said. A lot of spending and incentives are to make sure rural Saskatchewan's health care is stabilized, which in turn reduces pressures on Saskatoon and Regina, he added.

Saskatchewan also agreed to collect, use and share depersonalized health information to track progress on key areas within health care.

Federal Intergovernmental Affairs Minister of Dominic LeBlanc said in a news release that the agreement "builds on our shared objective of ensuring all Canadians, regardless of where they live or their ability to pay, can access the care they need, when they need it."

"Our government will continue to work with our partners across the country to build a better health-care system."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 1, 2023.

Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press