Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Health care accounting pure fudge

  • Print

For the better part of a decade, the provincial government has been fuelling Manitobans' expectations of their health-care system, increasing spending in the Health Department far in excess of inflation. In 12 years, health-care spending has doubled to the $5-billion that Finance Minister Stan Struthers wrote into his budget released Tuesday. But this year, health is taking a hit, even as the NDP congratulates itself on hiking that budget by 3.5 per cent.

The government narrative says that health, like education and child welfare, will not get cut. Mr. Struthers said this preserves critical services, while other departments get less, to help tame the deficit.

The truth is that an increase of 3.5 per cent for health is a cut, effectively, because that department has consistently received increases of six or seven per cent annually since 2000. And the real story on health spending won't be found in Mr. Struthers' budget documents. It is obscured by an accounting that lets the province spin numbers to its advantage.

First, budget documents make it appear the Health Department came in on budget last year -- a truly remarkable achievement if it were true. In fact, it saw $40 million in unspent funds carried over from 2010/11, something dubbed an "accounting adjustment." So while it appeared to come in on budget, it actually had $40 million to spend before it started in on its 2011 allotted budget.

So how will it get by on only 3.5 per cent more than what it was "budgeted" last year?

What Mr. Struthers did not say is that there will be cuts. The department is planning some $100 million in "efficiencies," a lot of which are not yet identified: The department will spend $6.7 million less in payments to doctors, and has identified almost $60 million of other cuts. But $40 million worth of efficiencies it is banking on have not been identified.

For a budget that will be in excess of $5 billion, $100 million sadly may seem like chump change -- two per cent, in fact. But that cash can mean the difference between hitting wait-list targets in certain services or not.

Mr. Struthers stressed that his government wasn't like the Progressive Conservatives, who, he reminded reporters, had cut nurses' jobs in the 1990s. No, he insisted, health services were not getting cut.

And maybe they won't, after a national review of provincial wait lists found Manitoba has not made good on its 2003 promise to get Manitobans into services such as joint replacements and MRIs when they should.

Paring back the increase to health spending comes at a cost. There was no explanation Tuesday what efficiencies in health would look like. Further, the government is on the second year of a two-year pause in wage hikes for health-associated workers and professionals. That means $100 million in savings can easily be taken up again when wage hikes for doctors, nurses and allied health professionals are triggered in 2013/14.

Health spending has been the biggest cost driver in Manitoba over the last decade. It has crowded out other departments at the table. The NDP could not tame its spending problem without hard decisions in health. The details on those decisions have not yet been divulged, but the long-term prognosis for cuts this year may prove the cure to be illusory.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 18, 2012 A10

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Tree remover has special connection to Grandma Elm

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Perfect Day- Paul Buteux walks  his dog Cassie Tuesday on the Sagimay Trail in Assiniboine Forest enjoying a almost perfect  fall day in Winnipeg- Standup photo – September 27, 2011   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • MIKE APORIUS/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS STANDUP - pretty sunflower in field off HWY 206 near Bird's Hill Park Thursday August 09/2007

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Should political leaders be highly visible on the frontlines of flood fights and other natural disasters?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google