Ontarians to pay more for health care, while some services no longer covered
Gillian LivingstonCanadian Press
May 19, 2004
TORONTO (CP) –
Recognizing the needs of Ontario’s aging and growing population, the new Liberal government unveiled a range of extra health-care services in its maiden budget Tuesday, including more MRIs, doctors and nurses, home care and vaccinations for kids.
The list of extra services will cost $4.8 billion over the next four years and bring the total health-care budget to $32.9 billion by 2007-2008. But taxpayers will pay hundreds of dollars a year more as the government institutes a health “premium” and removes coverage for several treatments from the provincial health plan.
“None of us can afford to believe any longer that the problems in our health-care system, from ever longer waiting times, to the lack of family doctors, to deteriorating long-term care, can be solved without additional revenue,” Finance Minister Greg Sorbara said in his budget speech.
“So, to shorten waiting times, to provide more doctors and nurses, to deliver results for patients, we are proposing an Ontario health premium.”
The premium, which will be based on income and from which Ontario’s poorest families are exempt, follows the lead of British Columbia and Alberta, where such premiums are already in place.
It will be used exclusively to fund health care, Sorbara said.
The premium wasn’t part of the Liberal election platform, but it was necessary to improve health-care services while at the same time managing a deficit inherited by the previous Conservative government, Sorbara said.
As a result, the government plans to change the Taxpayer Protection Act – which requires a referendum on any tax increases – to allow the measures in this budget, he said.
A referendum would cost $40 million, Sorbara said, and that money would be better spent on health care or education.
“We don’t really have the option of saying ‘well, we’re going to vote to not pay our bills, ” he said during a news conference.
“This is a difficult choice but frankly in the end we think it’s the right choice.”
Ontarians earning less than $20,000 will not pay the health premium. Those earning $20,000 to $36,000 will pay $300 a year, and that amount rises through several salary brackets to the top level of $900 annually for those who make more than $200,000 a year. Collectively, residents will pay $1.6 billion this fiscal year and $2.6 billion a year by 2007-2008. All of that money will be spent on health and the need for the premium will be reviewed by 2009.
The plan goes into effect July 1. Because the premium is deducted through Revenue Canada along with income tax with each paycheque, only half the premium will be collected this year.
The government has laid out a four-year plan to use this additional money to reduce waiting times for cancer and heart patients as well as those seeking cataract treatment and joint replacements. There will also be nine new MRI and CAT scan sites.
This year, the government plans to spend $600 million to move ahead with primary care reform, including the establishment of 150 family health teams made up of doctors, nurses and other health-care providers who will provide around-the-clock care.
The province also plans to provide home care to more seniors, more long-term care beds, expand mental-health services and boost hospital operating budgets to $12.4 billion in 2007-2008, up from $10.8 billion last year.
Children will get chickenpox, meningitis and pneumonia vaccinations at a cost of $156 million over three years.
But with all that money being spent on health services, Ontarians will still have to pay more for services soon to be delisted from the province’s public health-care plan.
As of this fall, sessions at the chiropractor will no longer be covered. Ontarians, with the exception of seniors and those under 20, will also have to pay out of their pocket for routine eye exams.
Physiotherapy is also being delisted, although not for seniors who will still get that service through home-care and long-term care facilities.
© The Canadian Press 2004