While all provincial and territorial governments are shelling out more for health care in Canada, Manitoba lives up to its reputation as the middle province by spending in the centre of the pack, according to new data published by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) Thursday.
CIHI notes Canada's total health spending is expected to reach $264 billion in 2019, the equivalent of roughly $7,068 per Canadian.
Manitoba is forecast to spend about $7,404 per resident on health care this year, exhausting most of its budget on hospital and physician costs (about 40 per cent and 21 per cent, respectively).
Chris Kuchciak, CIHI's manager of health expenditures, said the institute has been tracking health spending data since the 1970s and sees the numbers typically correlate with economic pressures.
"When you have more economic growth, governments are collecting more revenues and what we’ve seen is that they’ve chosen to invest much of those revenues into the health care system — which is not surprising because that’s what Canadians ... have said (is) a priority they want for government," Kuchciak said.
"And in large part if you look at the economy in Manitoba, we’ve seen more modest rates of growth. Governments – and it’s not unusual to Manitoba – we do see governments across the country running deficits and so, in response, they’ve looked at trying to restrain health spending within their jurisdiction."
The Progressive Conservative government often touts it is spending more on health care than the former NDP government ever did, though its spending percentage increases have been small. According to CIHI, Manitoba had about 3.1 per cent growth in health spending in 2016 and 1.6 per cent growth in 2017 (compared with 4.8 per cent growth under the NDP in 2015).
In a prepared statement, Health Minister Cameron Friesen said the province is reining in spending "from the wildly unsustainable levels seen under the previous government – who, it must be noted, delivered some of the worst results in the country."
"At the same time, we have been asking the federal Liberal government for more than a year to meet with all provinces to discuss – amongst other things — sustainable investments in health care over the next five to 10 years," Friesen said the day after meeting with his ministerial counterpart in Alberta.
CIHI also forecast that Manitoba will have the third-lowest health spending percentage increase in Canada this year at 1.2 per cent — less than half the national average growth forecast of 2.6 per cent.
Uzoma Asagwara, the NDP's health critic, said such slow growth is "unacceptable."
"Manitoba's population is growing and aging each year and families deserve a health care system that can keep up with the demand," Asagwara said by email.
"Instead, Mr. Pallister is only focused on the short term and the bottom line. He's closed emergency rooms, shuttered clinics, cancelled drug programs and defunded physiotherapy. It's deeply damaged our system and put the health of Manitobans at serious risk."
Overall, CIHI said the country's health spending is forecast to grow by four per cent this year, with hospitals, drugs and physician costs eating up the largest shares of money.
Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.