Nearly half of provincial spending goes to to health, says Abbotsford MLA

Health Minister Michael de Jong believes more challenges are ahead.

In three years, almost half of every taxpayer dollar spent by Victoria will go towards health care, says Health Minister and Abbotsford West MLA Michael de Jong.

The new $43.8 billion provincial budget announced Tuesday includes an increase in health care funding of $1.55 billion over three years – or about three per cent per year, which de Jong said is small in comparison to budgets that were growing at six and seven per cent over much of the past few decades.

The small increase, which will see the health budget hit $17.3 billion by 2014, is unlikely to solve hospital overcrowding concerns, especially in the Lower Mainland and at Abbotsford Regional Hospital, where reports of beds lined up in hallways have become more frequent.

“The health authorities will receive budget uplifts, in the case of Fraser Health, in excess of double digit increases over the three-year cycle. But they are facing real pressures,” said de Jong.

He added those challenges emphasize the difficulties government faces with labour costs and why it is being “disciplined” with salary negotiations. He said more than half of costs relate to labour.

“It is the single biggest impact on the dollars available.”

He acknowledged there will be health care service challenges in the next few years.

“We are clearly going to have to find some innovative ways to do things differently in order to maintain and improve service in the face of increased costs and an aging population.”

De Jong pointed to the seniors home renovation tax credit (of up to $1,000 per year) as an example. It helps with the cost of improvements, like widening doorways and installing safety equipment in bathrooms, which would allow seniors to stay home longer.

He also said, in terms of innovation and strategic investment, he is hoping to make an announcement soon regarding a health-related partnership in Abbotsford that he said should be “viewed positively.”

While he would not divulge what it was, de Jong did confirm “it has to do with the Campus of Care.”

De Jong believes to put B.C.’s latest budget into perspective, the rest of the world’s economic situation must be taken into consideration. He said other provinces, and most of the world, are dealing with deficits in the “billions” of dollars. However, B.C. is “now one year away from getting back to a balanced budget.”

The provincial budget is projecting a deficit of $968 million for the 2012-13 financial year and a surplus of $154 million by 2013-14. Other budget announcements include the continuation of the 2.5 per cent small business corporate tax, a four per cent increase to MSP payments, freezing of the carbon tax and  a first-time home buyer tax credit.