May 22, 2015


Health care accounting pure fudge

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.

Sept 15 2010 winnipeg free press dale cummings edit dinky    HEALTH INSPECTION / JURISDICTION

Sept 15 2010 winnipeg free press dale cummings edit dinky HEALTH INSPECTION / JURISDICTION

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.

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

You can comment on most stories on 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 January 2015.

Winnipeg Free Press | @WinnipegNews

May 22 5:02 pm

Republicans' "big-wig" hypocrisy

Winnipeg Free Press | @WinnipegNews

May 22 4:46 pm

Story-telling and gay rights

Winnipeg Free Press | @WinnipegNews

May 22 4:12 pm

Police seek missing 15-year-old girl

Winnipeg Free Press | @WinnipegNews

May 22 4:02 pm

Prosecutors seek 8-year sentence for deadly stabbing

Mike McIntyre | @mikeoncrime

May 22 3:50 pm

“You caused us great suffering and sorrow. Every day I feel the loss of my precious son,” victim's mother, Lavana Gentray, told court.

Scroll down to load more