David Orazietti does protest too much.
The northern Ontario MPP took a shot May 30th at Natalie Mehra, Director of the Ontario Health Coalition, in what his press release calls the “15-city fear mongering tour.”
Orazietti says Mehra is personally “taking every advantage to distort the truth.”
Of course, prior to the NDP holding their feet to the fire over passage of second reading of the budget bill, the McGuinty government had failed to hold its own public hearings on the budget, an unusual state of affairs particularly given the significant austerity package cobbled together by Finance Minister Dwight Duncan.
If we are to suddenly change directions, should the public not have a say in what transpires?
For the past month the Ontario Health Coalition has toured the province raising concerns and listening to a public clearly anxious about the impact of the spring budget on health care.
There is plenty of reason to do so.
Orazietti may be more reluctant to name the Auditor General of Ontario a fearmonger. Last summer, when health care funding was expected to be restrained to increases of 3.6 per cent, the auditor had warned that it would likely lead to cuts to services or rising deficits among the province’s more than 150 hospital corporations.
What was the McGuinty government’s response? To restrain funding even further, limiting increases to an average of 2.1 per cent over the next three years.
This budget will hit hospitals particularly hard, given their base budgets are expected to receive no additional funding despite an aging and growing population. On top of that, 36 hospitals are expected to receive cuts in funding of up to 3 per cent based on a new funding formula the government has decided to introduce. Whereas previous discussions about a funding formula had included talk of effectively protecting hospitals from a loss of funding during implementation, Health Minister Deb Matthews has decided to simply proceed full steam ahead regardless of the consequences.
And if that wasn’t enough, the McGuinty government has encouraged the Local Health Integration Networks to get more redistributive with overall health funding. Given the direction has been to move funds away from hospitals towards community-based agencies, this does not bode well.
It’s great in theory to say you want to move towards more community-based care, but what happens when the ERs start backing up and the waits start climbing again?
And who would believe them? While the government has maintained the mantra of more community-based delivery, the share of health care spending going to home care has actually shrunk under the McGuinty government. While the hospitals are frozen in this budget, 4 per cent for home care will barely address the existing waits for community care, let alone be enough to handle the new pressures from hospitals offloading patients.
Orazietti’s press release speaks about how much money the Liberals have put into health care since coming to power, but offers no context. It’s easy to be impressed by the statement the Liberals have put $19.2 billion into health care since 2003. Every industrialized nation on the planet has spent significantly on health care over the last decade. In fact, Canada has been among the most restrained
As a percentage of our overall economy, health care spending is actually now on the decline. It is also declining as a share of overall program spending by the provincial government. From 1993 to 2008 only five countries in the 32-nation OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) held spending increases below that of Canada, and at that, only marginally.
Orazietti maintains the myth that the McGuinty government have been big spenders on health care, yet per capita spending on health care in Ontario has hovered towards the bottom of the list of Canadian provinces. Only Quebec has challenged Ontario for the austerity crown.
This does not mean the McGuinty government hasn’t made investments. If bricks could solve our health care woes, the McGuinty government has plowed billions into new hospital buildings, unfortunately too many as very costly public-private partnerships. They have been more successful than most provinces in reducing wait times in five key areas, although their efforts to reduce ER waits have not borne much success. The jury is out on the effectiveness of family health teams, but most would applaud the idea of moving towards more team based delivery of primary care. Many communities have benefited from the introduction of new community health centres that look at a much broader set of determinants for health. Opening up hospitals to freedom of information requests was long overdue, although putting additional restrictions on the process was certainly unwarranted. Opening up hospitals to the ombudsman would also go a long way, but has yet to happen. The scorecard is definitely mixed.
Rather than calling health care advocates names, Orazietti would have been better advised to actually show up at the forum in his community of Sault Ste. Marie and listen to what his constituents had to say.
There are real concerns about this provincial budget, and he owes us all more than throwing sticks and stones at those who raise them.
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