On April 7th, 2022, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland tabled her first budget since the Liberals were re-elected in the Fall of 2021. In his election platform, Prime Minister Trudeau promised to inject billions of dollars into Canada’s healthcare system within the first few years of his new mandate. With this budget, we are starting to gain insight into where this healthcare funding will flow and what this government’s priorities are.
It is important to note that in March 2022, Prime Minister Trudeau entered into a legislative agreement with the NDP, called the Supply and Confidence Agreement. With this agreement, the NDP have committed to keeping the Trudeau Liberals in power until 2024, as long as the Liberals deliver on several key NDP priorities, including healthcare commitments such as dental care and universal pharmacare. Budget 2022 signifies a strong shift away from spending on emergency healthcare measures necessitated by COVID-19, and towards more progressive forward-looking healthcare policies that they promised during their election campaign and that the NDP have demanded as a result of the Supply and Confidence Agreement.
Bolstering the Healthcare System
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed several shortcomings in Canada’s healthcare and long- term care sectors, and it has also added significant strain to those systems. We’re facing Healthcare HR shortages across the country, a lack of access to primary care, and a long-term care sector that needs to be completely revamped. Budget 2022 has proposed several measures to bolster Canada’s health care system, including investments in public health to better detect and respond to public health events and emergencies as well as maintaining a national emergency stockpile of PPE. On top of these emergency preparedness measures, healthcare highlights from Budget 2022 include:
Funding of $5.3 billion over 5 years and $1.7 billion ongoing, to Health Canada to provide dental care for all Canadians. The free dental care program will start with kids under 12 in 2022 and expand to kids under 18, seniors, and persons living with a disability in 2023. It will be implemented for all Canadian families with an income of less than $90,000 annually by 2025.
Reducing the Backlogs of Surgeries and Procedures:
Health Canada estimates that nearly 700,000 medical procedures were cancelled or delayed during the pandemic. The Federal government is providing provinces and territories with an additional $2 billion (on top of the $4 billion provided in 2020-21) to address medical backlogs.
A Commitment to National Pharmacare:
While Budget 2022 does not include national pharmacare, it includes the promise of universal national pharmacare. The federal government will table the Canada Pharmacare Bill and work to have it passed by the end of 2023, and task the Canadian Drug Agency with developing a national formulary of essential medicines and a bulk purchasing plan. The reason for this commitment now is likely a compromise from the Supply and Confidence Agreement with the NDP .
Key Omissions from Budget 2022
While Budget 2022 promises to address many issues in Canada’s public health sector, there are two key omissions from Budget 2022 in the healthcare space: support for mental health care and investments in long-term care.
Budget 2022 recognizes that the pandemic has had a significant impact on Canadians’ mental health, but it does little to address the issue. The government is continuing to act on its previous commitment of a Canada Mental Health Transfer to support the expansion and delivery of high quality and accessible mental health services across Canada; however, no further details were provided.
Further, there is no support whatsoever for long-term care in Budget 2022. The long-term care sector was ravaged by the pandemic, and it became clear that investment in the sector was needed. While Budget 2022 does make mention of the up to $4 billion through the 2020 Fall Economic Statement and Budget 2021 for the provinces to spend on long-term care, there is no additional funding provided in Budget 2022.
Budget 2022 has clearly signaled that the government is pivoting away from emergency COVID- 19 spending and towards more progressive forward-looking healthcare policies and priorities. Given this shift, now is the time for the private sector to knock on the government’s door, both with solutions to ongoing challenges the government faces, and with new ideas that can bring Canada’s healthcare system into the future.
Many of the priorities in Budget 2022, including dental care and universal pharmacare, are bolstered by the government’s coalition with the NDP. If the government actually follows through with dental care and national pharmacare, it will be the biggest change our healthcare system has seen in a generation.
Carys Baker is a Senior Cumberland Strategies Consultant with a focus on the healthcare and long-term care sectors. Bliss Baker is the Chairman and Founder of Cumberland Strategies and has represented a range of large Canadian and multinational companies in the healthcare industry.
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