Ball still optimistic about health deal

Published on December 20, 2016

Premier Dwight Ball

©Telegram file photo

Premier Dwight Ball struck an optimistic tone Tuesday, after a breakdown in negotiations in Ottawa Monday over a national health accord.

Ball said he still believes a national deal may be done, with some regional tweaking.

“It’s not over,” Ball told The Telegram.

“I think I left the office last night something around 11:30. Spoke to (Finance Minister Bill) Morneau around 11.”

At issue is the federal health transfers to the province. Since 2004, the payments have increased by six per cent annually, but the Harper government announced they would drop to three per cent, and the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is poised to follow through on that.

Provinces wanted more, and Ottawa wanted to target money towards specific health care areas.

On Monday, talks broke down, and no deal was reached, so the default of three per cent seems like where things are headed.

“I think you’ll probably land on a national commitment,” Ball said. “But maybe some tweaking and uniqueness that represents some more of a regional area.”

Newfoundland and Labrador has been pushing towards a new funding formula, instead of a straight per capita calculation, so that there would be some recognition that the province has an older population than many other areas.

“If you’re talking about home care, it’s primarily seniors,” Ball said. “So I’ll go with per capita as long as the targeted per capita area is seniors.”

But on the broad-brush strokes, Ball was supportive of the federal government’s position.

“I’m not opposed to targeted funding. As a matter of fact, I promote targeted funding,” he said.

“If I was the feds, I would want it targeted because I’d want to see the improvement in outcomes. … And the two priority areas — mental health and home care, palliative care — I support those two priorities.”

All of this represents a relatively small amount of money compared to the scale of the province’s budget. Health care makes up a huge chunk of total spending, but federal funding only makes up 17 per cent of the health budget, compared to 83 per cent coming from provincial revenue.

So the difference between three per cent and six per cent is only about $15.4 million, Ball said — a tiny fraction of the $3 billion the province will spend on health care this year.

“If you go back to 1985 when the Canada Health Act was put in place, it was 50-50, so you can see that health care has increased significantly,” Ball said.