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Health Minister Jim Reiter.

March 22 was a big day for Saskatchewan and Canada. It was budget day for both the province and country, with healthcare being one of many areas in the spotlight.

Although healthcare generally falls within provincial and territorial jurisdiction, the federal government announced it will provide $37.1 billion to the provinces and territories under the Canadian Health Transfer. In addition, the federal government will provide $6 billion in homecare and $5 billion to mental health over the next 10 years to the provinces and territories.  The news isn’t as good as it sounds. The amount falls significantly lower than the provinces and territories were asking for, which led to a refusal from most provinces when the offer was initially offered.

Across the board, the provinces were asking for a funding increase of 5.2 per cent. The federal government initially offered a three per cent increase. After repeated meetings and negotiation, every province refused to sign the agreement except New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Saskatchewan eventually signed the agreement in January after the federal government increased the initial offer from a 3 per cent increase to a 3.5 per cent increase. The deal would also see $190.3 million for home care and $158.5 million for mental health services over the next 10 years.

All the provinces eventually came on board except for one holdout. As of March 10, Manitoba is the only province unable to reach an agreement with the federal government.

The controversial agreement between Saskatchewan and the federal government raised questions about how the federal funding, or lack thereof, would impact the provincial healthcare budget.

“Our officials are working with federal officials and there’s still a lot of unanswered questions. We don’t know what kind of strings it’ll have attached, how the funding will flow,” said provincial health minister Jim Reiter. “It’s probably not going to have a significant impact this year. We’re very hopeful for next year and subsequent years,” Reiter added.

Reiter also said the province will see a very small amount in the first year of the home care and mental health funding from the federal government.

Despite the less-than-expected funding from the federal government, a record $5.2 billion will be allocated to healthcare. However, there will also be program reductions, eliminations and fee increases.

Here are the numbers for the provincial healthcare budget:

  • $3.4 billion will be allocated for Regional Health Authorities for operating funding and investments in services and programs, which is an increase of 1.2 per cent from 2017-17. This includes $12 million to aid overcapacity issues and emergency department wait times in Saskatoon and Regina, $24.4 million for operating funding and service pressures and $4.4 million in operating funding for the Children’s Hospital of Saskatchewan.
  • $170.4 million will be allocated to the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency to provide cancer care services to more patients, a 2 per cent increase from 2016-17.
  • $750,000 will be used to start a human papillomavirus program for boys in Grade 6, which is an expansion on the existing program for girls.
  • $250,000 will be allocated to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind for equipment and rehabilitation services.
  • $83.7 million will be allocated to capital investment, which is a 17.2 per cent increase from 2016-17. This includes investments in capital maintenance, capital equipment replacements, continued construction of the Children’s Hospital of Saskatchewan and CHS information technology, electrical renewal projects at Regina hospitals and Leader Integrated Facility funding.

On to the bad news.

Funding is being reduced for the following programs:

  • Parent mentoring and pastoral care services won’t be offered in health regions
  • Chiropractic services won’t be covered for low-income safety net recipients starting July 1
  • Travel vaccination clinics will change from pubic health offices to private providers.

In addition, the following programs will be eliminated:

  • Hearing Aid Plan
  • Podiatry Services
  • Continuous positive airway pressure generators
  • Low-cost orthotics.

There will also be a fee increase for long term care homes.

As of July 1, fees will increase from $1,086 plus 50 per cent of income to $1,086 plus 57.5 per cent income for roughly half of the residents living in long-term care homes. The maximum monthly fee is set at $2,689.